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Futurology, DARPA-style

From the Winter 2009 Zeitgeist…

Futurology, DARPA-style

Zeitgeist face such an alarming amount of numbers, facts, figures and statistics every day that sifting through it all to find the relevant information has become something of a fine art. Did you know mobile advertising is up almost as much as newspaper is down (18.1% and 18.7%, respectively)? Wikipedia currently features over 13 million articles, (though as reported recently in Le Monde, the rate of growth is slowing). Did you know the average US teen sends 2,272 texts a month, that Nokia manufactures thirteen cell phones every second, that 93% of Americans own a mobile, but a third donʼt yet feel comfortable paying for items with it?

These sorts of facts can help prognosticators look to the near future with a vague certainty toward upcoming trends. However, Zeitgeist is not satisfied with merely peering into the near future. We are always looking beyond the horizon, into the depths of futurology.

Who would have predicted that space exploration would have precipitated the creation of digital hearing aids and cancer detection devices? Who would have predicted that a little-known DoD agency created in a knee-jerk reaction to the launch of Sputnik, would stumble across a way of communicating between computers that would develop into the Internet we know and love today? DARPA lists many of the projects it is currently working on, which aside from their military uses might also have intriguing applications for consumers in the future. Chemical robots that are able to change size and shape in order to fit into different areas and perform different functions and nano air vehicles “less than 7.5cm in size” are some of the more fascinating things in development.  Programmable matter could see brand comms with manipulative particles that ʻrememberʼ their position. Paint on your walls could change to a Guinness hue at happy hour. Micro power sources would give client Duracell new avenues of energy storage to explore, and tiny micro air vehicles could be sent anywhere to project video imagery or augmented reality functionality for a product.

Yet, as The Economist points out, despite manifest amounts of consumer products that are military derivatives, “lately some kinds of technology have been moving in the other direction, too”. Drones plaguing neʼer do wells in Pakistan are piloted using modified X-box controllers (it helps if the video feed is protected, however). Moreover, “soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are using Apple iPods and iPhones to run translation software and calculate bullet trajectories”. While the military has an enormous budget for R&D, little is invested in electronics, hence why the USAF recently bought 2,200 PS3s to form a super-computer. Zeitgeist has already placed an order for a nano air vehicle from GE.

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  1. October 31, 2011 at 9:46 am

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