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Somebody at DARPA is a Fan of Daniel Suarez

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez

Remember those augmented reality glasses that the daemon operatives like Loki used to connect to the Darknet? Well, DARPA did…

DARPA Designing Augmented Reality Goggles to Fight Friendly Fire 

DARPA smart tech

Remember how the Beastmaster could see through the eyes of his pet eagle? DARPA does. And it’s pursuing augmented reality goggles tech that’ll let troops see through the eyes of a nearby unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in order to more accurately target its weapons.

The issue of accurate targeting and weapons-fire has a renewed interest in the wake of NATO mistakenly destroying rebel armor in Libya rather than Gadhaffi’s hardware, but it’s never been an easy task. One of the very best ways to deliver today’s smartest weapons is to have an “eyes-on” soldier in the field near the target relaying real time data up to the aircraft that’s about to drop a bomb–but this situation is not often practical or desirable and can be dangerous for both the soldier and the incoming aircraft.


Read the rest here. 

Very cool. If John was not so busy with his new company, he probably could tell his readers how to combine this off-the-shelf modified tech with DIY drones.

An always fun thought experiment is to figure out how far ahead DARPA really is in the lab compared to whatever toy they feel comfortable giving a press release. And then there’s what exists on the drawing board that is technically feasible but not particularly economical at the present time to pursue seriously. Imagination usually far outstrips budgets

Google’s DARPA of Foreign Policy Cometh?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Interesting. I suggested something like this years ago.

….What the USG desperately needs is a national security equivalent to DARPA that can both engage in deep thinking and have the freedom to run pilot programs to enhance America’s strategic influence that can later be expanded by our traditional power bureaucracies. This would be far more than a just a federally funded think tank – RAND, Brookings, Hoover , Heritage, AEI, CATO, CFR, Carnegie, CSIS and others all do a fine job of policy analysis. They also give statesmen a productive place to hang their hat as an alternative to whoring themselves out as corporate or ideological lobbyists. Another one of those is not what the times require.

What I’m proposing is a lot closer to a cross between a soft-power version of the Institute for Advanced Studies and a clandestine service – one with the objective of developing innovative programs to maximize the influence of American values and promote “Connectivity ” in nations mired in the endemic, isolated, misery of the “Gap”. This is not what the USG normally does. The bias of State and Defense, State in particular, when dealing with foreign policy questions tend to be orientated toward day to day, tactical, crisis management….

Google appears to be trodding down that very path:

Google Grabs State Dept. Star Jared Cohen for Foreign Policy “Think/Do Tank”

Jared Cohen joined Google last week as the director of its newly created Google Ideas “think/do tank”-an entity whose objective is to dream up and try out ideas that address the challenges of counterterrorism, counterradicalism, and nonproliferation, as well as innovations for development and citizen empowerment. He has also landed a side gig as an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, focusing on innovation, technology, and statecraft.

Google has now hired Cohen to set up Google Ideas, which will look for innovative approaches to some of the stickiest international issues of the day. Out of his New York office, Cohen will, he told Foreign Policy, seek to “[build] teams of stakeholders with different resources and perspectives to troubleshoot challenges.” As for why he decided to give this a shot in the private sector, rather than in the public sphere, to which these issues have traditionally belonged, Cohen says there are “things the private sector can do that the U.S. government can’t do.”

The big thing is the resources and the capabilities. There are not a couple hundred [computer] engineers in the State Department that can build things; that’s just not what government does. You don’t necessarily have some of the financial resources to put behind these things. It’s really hard to bring talented young people in; there are not a lot mechanisms to do it. [And] on some topics, it’s very sensitive for government to be the one doing this.

During the Cold War, DARPA was a great success, as government bureaucracies go, partly because secrecy freed it from the normal political and bean counting constraints. The other reason was that DARPA’s focus was primarily upon engineering types of problems. Technically difficult, innovative and exploratory problems to be certain, but generally not the sort of socially constructed or influenced “wicked problems“. Or “intractable ones” ( DARPA delved into technical problems that were, due to the technological level of that earlier era, also intractable, but that is still a different kettle of fish from socioeconomic, perceptually intractable, problems). It would seem that Google Ideas will be tackling the harder set of problems to solve.

Google Ideas is an entity to watch but all the observation will be detrimental to the accomplishment of it’s mission, as the nature of social wicked problems carry with them vested interests determined to defend the dysfunctional status quo from which they derive benefits. In some scenarios, with extreme violence. In others, with political pressure. There’s a reason these problems in the human realm go unsolved – sweet reason and pilot program rational incentives might not appeal to leaders of La Familia or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Google might also need a formidible Google PMC.

Hat tip to Larry Dunbar.

Tweaking Cascio’s Futurist Bibliography

Friday, April 30th, 2010

At Fast Company, Jamais Cascio unveiled a short bibliography for the general reader on Futurist thinking.

Futures Thinking: A Bibliography

As you probably picked up from earlier entries in the Futures Thinking series, foresight work is intensely information-based. If you’re going to make grounded projections of future possibilities, you have understand both what has led us to the point we’re at today, and what kinds of issues seem to be shaping up as emerging drivers. A few pieces to trigger some creative thoughts can help, too.

As I suggested in Futures Thinking: Scanning the World, a good deal of the reading you’ll be doing will be in the form of websites and journals. This isn’t surprising; part of the service provided by foresight workers is sensitivity to early warnings of big changes. It will be tempting to focus on science and technology materials, in part because there tends to be an overlap between people interested in futures work and people interested in new tech toys, and in part because the pace and pattern of change is easier to see in science and technology than it is in many other realms. It’s not necessarily more “objective,” but it’s perceived as less ambiguous.

That was the introduction, you can read the rest here. Now on to Cascio’s recommendations:


These two books are good resources for understanding methodologies of futures work. Schwartz co-founded Global Business Network, and Johansen is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future. (Disclosure: I’ve worked with Peter, and currently work with Bob.)

  • Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz
  • Get There Early, Bob Johansen


Foresight is anticipatory history. These three books offer very different perspectives on how to think about the past — which, in turn, help to shape how we should think about the future. Polanyi is a classical theorist, looking at ideas and states; Zinn is a populist, looking at the lives of regular people; Diamond is an ecologist, looking at the intersection of culture and environment. I end up mixing these three approaches in my own work.

  • The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi
  • A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
  • Collapse, Jared Diamond


Easily the largest section of my personal library, I could have made the list of Analysis books ten times longer. The ones I’ve picked here, however, offer for me a set of cogent insights into how we live with the tools we make. The ideal result from reading a book in this category should be an epiphany moment where you can see all sorts of links from the book’s ideas to other books/ideas you’ve encountered. All of these books gave me that kind of moment.

  • Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold
  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
  • Everyware, Adam Greenfield
  • Plan B, Lester Brown
  • Radical Evolution, Joel Garreau
  • Brave New War, John Robb
  • No Logo, Naomi Klein


The highest compliment I can give a science fiction book is that it’s “plausibly surreal” — it manages to feel like a relentless extrapolation from today even as it overwhelms with unexpected consequences of that extrapolation. I’ve read each of these are books multiple times, and I still get a giddy feeling of discovery every time.

  • Accelerando, Charlie Stross
  • Transmetropolitan series, Warren Ellis & Darrick Roberts
  • Holy Fire, Bruce Sterling
  • The Bohr Maker, Linda Nagata
  • Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge
  • Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson

I am not familiar with all of these books. The Art of the Long View is considered to be a classic and I will give a very strong recommendation to Brave New War and Smart Mobs.

What would I add to this list?:


Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision by Roberta Wohlstetter

The Next Two Hundred Years: A Scenario for America and the World by William Morle Brown and Herman Kahn


From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun

A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future by Charles van Doren


Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos by Edward Robert Harrison

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson

Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century by Alvin Toffler

I’m not a frequent enough consumer of science fiction to have noteworthy recommendations for “Inspiration”. There are obvious authors who come to mind – Asimov, Dick, Heinlein, Gibson, Clarke – but I’ll leave it to readers here to nominate titles in the comments section.

Cascio on the Utility of Futurism

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Jamais Cascio explains the cognitive benefits of good futurist methodology:

Foresight exercises that result in a single future story are rarely as useful as they appear, because we can’t predict the future. The goal of futures thinking isn’t to make predictions; the goal is to look for surprising implications. By crafting multiple futures (each focused on your core dilemma), you can look at your issues from differing perspectives, and try to dig out what happens when critical drivers collide in various ways.

Whatever you come up with, you’ll be wrong. The future that does eventually emerge will almost certainly not look like the scenarios you construct. However, it’s possible to be wrong in useful ways–good scenarios will trigger minor epiphanies (what more traditional consultants usually call “aha!” moments), giving you clues about what to keep an eye out for that you otherwise would have missed.

Yes. I would add that such thought experiments also help to improve pattern recognition in analyzing reality. From teasing out logically sound, if fictional, consequences, we become more discerning about recognizing causation and potential second and third order effects of events or policy choices.


Tuesday, July 10th, 2007


Picked up the recent issue of Fast Company at the airport, which represents the first time I’ve actually looked at the actual magazine and not a stray blog link to one of their articles. Have to say that I enjoyed it enough to contemplate ordering a subscription. The cover article on Al Gore, while hagiographic in a mildly sycophantic way, was nonetheless, very informative. The whole tone, while geared toward business, is accented by techno-futurism and looking across domains. I ended up reading the issue straight through.

I still have a delight in magazines retained from the pre-internet era where getting the new issue in the mailbox represented a small pleasure. Currently, I subscribe to The Smithsonian, Edutopia, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly and GQ. Formerly, I did so with The Wilson Quarterly, Foreign Affairs, National Geographic, Foreign Policy, Men’s Fitness, Playboy ( strictly for the articles), Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Health, Newsweek, The Columbia Journalism Review, Time, U.S. News & World Report, National Review and several local newspapers. My tendency was for the periodical pile to steadily grow to epic proportions until backlogged and unread material threatened to collapse the coffee table.

The internet has rendered such an excess of dead tree text superfluous and I no longer have the free time to even entertain trying to keep up with that kind of deluge. However, I still pick up some of those at the bookstore, along with magazines to which I’ve never subscribed, like Scientific American, The Economist, The New Republic , The Nation and The National Interest. The change in point of view or subject matter always does me some good.

What do you read ? Or not read ?

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