Technology is moving from entertainment to defense

aAugust 2022I have worked as a technical specialist for 40 years. As a fresh, junior software engineer, this world of “tech” is not very similar to ours. Computers, which are still rare and expensive, have not invaded our homes.

It will be another thirty years before they shrink into smartphones and colonize the tips of our arms. In the early 1980s, technology meant something big and powerful—which often referred to something with either a clear military purpose or a direct descendant of something with a clear military purpose.

Throughout history, technology and war have had a close relationship. Each advance in technology bears the seeds of an arms race, as civilizations scramble to master the latest advances: bronze, iron, stirrups, gunpowder, aircraft, radar – and most recently, the secrets of the atomic nucleus. World War II began with a charge of cavalry in Poland, but ended with a mushroom cloud over Nagasaki.

In the early ’80s, technology meant something big and powerful.

The Cold War saw huge sums being spent on developing new technologies to maintain a balance between the great powers. In the early 1960s, my aunt spent a few years writing code for systems that simulated the aerodynamics of re-entry ballistic missiles. This was what technology looked like during the 40 years of the Cold War, with each side frantically throwing resources into an accelerating arms race that eventually bankrupted the Soviet Union — and led directly to much of the technology of our 21st century world.

The Internet remains the archetypal example of a technology that was originally developed for military necessity: keeping US military systems well connected while under massive thermonuclear attack – which later found endless non-military uses. Its original name, ARPAnet – after the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – This reflects the origin. As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, these technologies experienced their own “liberation” – they found their way into consumer devices.

World War II began with a charge of cavalry in Poland, but ended with a mushroom cloud over Nagasaki.

Another DARPA investment focus is on systems that can be used to simulate and visualize data collected from the battlefield in three dimensions, in real time. All modern computer graphics – such as can be found in any smartphone, laptop or PC – have their roots in these military simulators. Some of this technology found its way into the information-dense “front-end” displays used by jet fighter pilots – but some also made its way to NASA, where by the mid-1980s engineers had prototyped a “virtual environmental workstation”. VIEW has produced an immersive and interactive 3D world, a tool that astronauts aboard the space shuttle can use to rehearse their extravehicular activities before heading to the airlock. VIEW became the prototype for all of the “virtual reality” systems that followed – in fact, it looks a little different today from that original model, which is now almost forty years old.

As the Cold War faded, the United States and its allies took the “peace dividend,” cut defense budgets, and settled on what they thought was a victory.end of historyAt that pivotal moment, Cold War technologies found their way into a new kind of arms race – the battle for attention. Video game consoles have been popular since the late 1970s, right up to Atari’s first video computer system. Sony changed everything with its first Play StationBy turning some of the most advanced real-time 3D interactive technology developed for military simulation into an inexpensive device that can sit next to the family’s TV.

The Internet remains the archetypal example of a technology that was originally developed to meet a military need.

In an unexpected twist, war technologies are re-emerging as entertainment technologies. Ultra-realistic 3D graphics have dominated cinema in films like Jurassic Park And the Toy Storywhile the simulation is more primitive but more attractive like Tomb rider And the Gran Turismo Offer tens of millions of people an exciting (some might say addictive) experience in their own homes. Another arms race – ‘Battle for the Living Room’ – pits Sony’s PlayStation against Microsoft’s Xbox, as subsequent generations of consoles push semiconductor technologies to their limits.

By the early 2000s, consumer electronics had overtaken all but the most advanced (and rated) military systems. Morpheus, the god of dreams, has dazzled and traversed Mars. The current generation smartphone has nanometer-scale feature circuits, at least equal to – and very likely better than – almost anything any army can buy from any weapons manufacturer.

Greek warrior covered with smartphones
DALL.E’s interpretation of the artificial intelligence of the Greek god Ares wearing armor made of phones.

This power shift did not go unnoticed by those armies. In the late 1990s, she participated in the planning of Institute of Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, whose stated purpose (and funding) came from the US military’s desire to access the creative talent and technological capabilities of the people who design systems not for battlefields, but for living rooms. Where entertainment led the way in technological development, the military would happily follow.

By the early 2010s, the lines between entertainment and the battlefield began to blur. Advances in smartphone technology have made virtual reality cheap and accessible, making augmented reality technically possible – seamlessly blending the virtual and real worlds. Militaries have long realized that they need augmented reality to lead integration Command, control and communication (CCC) for soldiers on the battlefield, giving them “guiding” abilities that are familiar to any player in a real-time “open world” game such as Battlefield 2042.

War techniques are re-emerging as entertainment techniques.

Nobody distinguishes this Janus-like transition from Morpheus to Mars more than Palmer Loki. A decade ago, at age 19, Luckey founded VR startup Oculus, launched his first VR headset on Kickstarter — and raised over $1 million in its first 24 hours. What was once thought of a moribund technology came back to life when Sony and Microsoft, these eternal rivals, began working on their virtual reality systems. Two years later, Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus for more than $3 billion.

In October 2021, Oculus Palmer effectively ate Facebook’s core social media business when Zuckerberg renamed the company “meta” – after “metaverse“- The long-predicted global virtual world that is still far from reality. But Palmer was already long gone, after the pendulum in technological development that thirty years later began to swing away from Morpheus towards Mars.

The smartphone has circuitry that is very likely to be better than almost anything any military can buy.

Getting paid by Facebook and not yet 25, Palmer was rambling on his next job, realizing that while “adversaries like Russia and China invested in cutting-edge technologies — like artificial intelligence and robotics — in their military, I saw the United States fall behind… the people who… They really built these things for our armies that they couldn’t get out of.”

Sony, Microsoft and Apple can build sophisticated hardware and software systems — driven by the desire to make trillions of dollars from consumers. Meanwhile, defense contractors are getting lost in the weeds of endless procurement cycles. None of the ‘startup mindset’ that drove Silicon Valley’s successes found its way into the defense sector – so in 2017 Palmer founded his own defense company, Anduril Industries (named after the famous sword of the Lord of the Rings), making the kinds of things you might not be surprised to find on the shelves of the average electronics retailer – but with a military advantage…

Militaries have long recognized that they need augmented reality.

“We build unmanned aerial vehicles, from reconnaissance drones to aerial interceptors that kick other drones out of the sky, and we build ground systems that tell you where all vehicles, animals, boats, and drones are at all times — communicating with each other, making sure that All humans and all machines have the right information at the right time.We make underwater vehicles, where they can dive to a depth of 6000 meters all the way to their bottom [almost] any part of the ocean.”

This last point is of great importance to Australians. Anduril has Signed a deal with the ADF To develop a fleet of XL-UAVs – very large autonomous underwater vehicles. If it works (one advantage of the startup approach is that the results will be known in a year or two, rather than a decade or three), Australia’s underwater frontier could soon be under constant surveillance by a fleet of hundreds. , and possibly thousands of these “unmanned” submarines. This is only possible because Anduril is reusing technologies developed in the entertainment sector – everything from sensors to machine learning to communications – to military ends, as Mars designed her new shield from Morpheus dreams.

None of the “startup mindset” that drove Silicon Valley’s successes has found its way into the defense sector.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—as well as the ever-rising threat of Taiwan’s “reunification” with mainland China—has focused the minds of policymakers and military planners. Budgets will follow soon. Within this decade, the focus on technology development could decisively swing away from Morpheus and toward Mars.

We’ve been here before. In the first decades of the twentieth centuryThe tenth In the last century, all the technologies of the Industrial Revolution – which provided clothing, communication and comfort to tens of millions who had never known such luxuries before – found their way into the war equipment deployed in Flanders and Verdun. We have to keep this in mind, as we rise, freshly armed, from our restful sleep.