Early this year, as part of the $92 million “Data to Decisions” program run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Naval Research began evaluating computer programs designed to sift through masses of information stored, traded, and trafficked over the Internet that, when put together, might predict social unrest, terrorist attacks, and other events of interest to the military. Blog posts, e-mail, Twitter feeds, weather reports, agricultural trends, photos, economic data, news reports, demographics—each might be a piece of an emergent portrait if only there existed a suitable, algorithmic way to connect them. ... There is no doubt that the Internet—that undistinguished complex of wires and switches—has changed how we think and what we value and how we relate to one another, as it has made the world simultaneously smaller and wider. Online connectivity has spread throughout the world, bringing that world closer together, and with it the promise, if not to level the playing field between rich and poor, corporations and individuals, then to make it less uneven. There is so much that has been good—which is to say useful, entertaining, inspiring, informative, lucrative, fun—about the evolution of the World Wide Web that questions about equity and inequality may seem to be beside the point. ... But while we were having fun, we happily and willingly helped to create the greatest surveillance system ever imagined
He's not the genius cranking out code, the analyst looking for the next big IPO, the hand-shaking CEO, or the wartime general turning a pile of intel into a plan. He's the guy who can talk to all of those people, understand them, and combine their strengths into a matrix none individually would have imagined. ... He didn't even have a particularly military bearing. While other guys pumped iron, the lithe little yoga dude they called Dr. Spaghetti Man was stretching and breathing on the wrestling mats, an Ivy Leaguer downward-dogging in a world of booyah. ... As a DARPA program manager, White could name his project. And the “thing” he wanted to make was a new breed of search engines, capable of mining the entirety of the Internet. ... White’s Memex project would be a portfolio approach. Some tools would dive into the dark Web and present all the hidden onion sites to be found there as a list, something previously considered too difficult to bother with. Others would index and sort the enormous flows of deep and dark Web online forums (which are otherwise unsearchable). Others would monitor social-media trends, connect photos, read handwritten information, or strip out data from Web pages and cross-index the results into data maps.
On March 13, 2004, a gaggle of engineers and a few thousand spectators congregated outside a California dive bar to watch 15 self-driving cars speed across the Mojave Desert in the first-ever Darpa Grand Challenge. (That’s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s skunkworks arm.) Before the start of the race, which marked the first big push toward a fully autonomous vehicle, the grounds surrounding the bar teemed with sweaty, stressed, sleep-deprived geeks, desperately tinkering with their motley assortment of driverless Frankencars: SUVs, dune buggies, monster trucks, even a motorcycle. After the race, they left behind a vehicular graveyard littered with smashed fence posts, messes of barbed wire, and at least one empty fire extinguisher. ... What happened in between—the rush out of the starter gate, the switchbacks across the rocky terrain, the many, many crashes—didn’t just hint at the possibilities and potential limitations of autonomous vehicles that auto and tech companies are facing and that consumers will experience in the coming years as driverless vehicles swarm the roads. It created the self-driving community as we know it today, the men and women in too-big polo shirts who would go on to dominate an automotive revolution.
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