DARPA: The double-edged sword at the centre of the US military-industrial complex


DARPA is best known for inventing the internet. Less well known is its work in the social sciences, psychological warfare, and brain control. Many stories about the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) highlight the remarkable technology it has invented: the internet, GPS, and faster supply chains to provide vaccines for swine flu and Ebola. It can be easy to forget DARPA is a military research agency: above all else, it’s tasked with keeping the American war machine supreme.

The agency that invented the internet has also been heavily involved in devising US counterinsurgency policy from Vietnam through to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is preparing for the wars of the future. Much of DARPA’s research is technology based, and increasingly moving towards Robotic/Cyborg based platforms.Science fiction writers might set that kind of cyborg warfare in a distant future. At any given time, what DARPA scientists are working on—especially in the agency’s classified programs—is 10 to 20 years ahead of the technology that’s out in the public domain.

For some the concerns about cyborgs stem from DARPA’s research into putting computer chips inside people’s brains. Hundreds of thousands of veterans of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have returned to the US with traumatic brain injuries, and many are volunteering for surgery to restore their cognitive faculties.this kind of cutting-edge technology has a closer link to DARPA’s stated goal, advancing weapons technology, than the agency might admit.

DARPA’s movement is towards coupling man and machine, so putting neuro-prosthetics in the brains of soldiers so that they can have what is called augmented cognition. They can become super-soldiers … Ultimately [the Pentagon is moving] toward robots taking over the job: self-governing drones, drones that are often called hunter-killer drones.’

When Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address as president in 1961, he cautioned against the potential influence of the military-industrial complex. ‘Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,’ he said, ‘can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.’that idea is even more important today in light of how fast technology is moving. ‘Things can get away from us very quickly … I think that there needs to be a pause and a discussion and a debate.’

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