All posts by Matt Burgess

Thought control, impossible materials and intelligent machines: DARPA’s world in 2045

DARPA predicts that in 30 years we will have intelligent conversations with the machines around us, use our thoughts to control the environment and the things around us will be built with materials that are “impossible at the moment”.

These are the predictions of three of DARPA’s staff, who are imagining the world in 2045.

The employees, which include the deputy director of tactical technologies, a program manager in biological technologies and the director of defense services, all predict radical changes to how we interact with the world and technologies around us.

Intelligent machines

Pam Melroy, DARPA’s deputy director of its tactical technologies office, said that by 2045 we will be communicating with the intelligent machines around us. She said that we will be able to “communicate directly our intent and have very complex outcomes by working together”.

The example given is a pilot simply telling a plane they are flying to prepare for landing, in the same way that a co-pilot would be told, and the plane reacting by preparing all its systems for touchdown automatically.

“Today we see ourselves just at the cusp of the ability to communicate with machines,” Melroy said.

“The investments that we’re making here at DARPA are human machine interfaces that are much more natural and allow us to work as partners with machines and have them understand our intent for much more complex tasks: things like the ability to control more than one aircraft at once, the ability to have a ship automatically recognise other craft on the surface of the ocean and use some very sophisticated logic to avoid those craft following the rules of the high seas for collision avoidance.”

Impossible materials

Cars, planes and buildings will be made from materials that we can’t even envisage at the moment, says DARPA’s Stefanie Tompkins.

The agency’s director of its defense sciences office says that “things are going to be made up of materials that have properties that right now instinctively we think are completely impossible”. To get there she says we have to move away from the constraints that nature has given us, and she compares this process as being similar to creating structures like the Eiffel Tower.

“If we can think about how we can apply those basic principles down at the atomic and molecular level. Imagine those Eiffel Tower trusses being done in molecules to molecules, where you can now start to control properties of materials that we thought were impossible to exist in one thing but by building them at the atomic level we can force them to co-exist,” Tompkins says.

“Imagine a building made of bricks where each individual brick is not only incredible strong but be as light as a feather.”

Advanced brain interfaces

Using our thoughts to control the environment around use will be possible by 2045 according to Justin Sanchez, a program manager in DARPA’s biological technologies offices.

He says he imagines a world where people can control “different aspects of your home just using your brain signals, or maybe communicating with your friends and your family just using neural activity from your brain”. Sanchez goes on to say that this will have an impact across a number of fields.

“So think about people today who are paralysed and cannot move, we can develop direct brain interfaces to enable them to have near natural control of a prosthetic limb for example,” he says.

“Or maybe somebody living with a brain injury who can’t remember anymore.

“We can develop direct brain interfaces that could allow them remember in a way that a normal person could ultimately do this. DARPA takes on some of the world’s most challenging problems, it’s an agency that can go after these kinds of visions and bring together key stake holders in order to make this happen.”

UK spies will get the right to hack smartphones and computers, reports say

Spies in the UK will be given the legal power to hack into phones, computers, laptops and tablets, reports have claimed.

The new power, which will introduce provisions to make it lawful, in some circumstances, for spy agencies to force their way into communications on devices, will be included in the controversial Investigatory Powers (IP) bill, The Times reports.

The controversial Investigatory Powers (IP) bill will introduce provisions to make it lawful, in some circumstances, for spy agencies to force their way into communications on devices, The Times reports.The new bill, according to the paper, will be introduced to Parliament in November and expand what communications agencies in the UK can access within the law.

Unnamed sources told the newspaper that the new legislation would, in part, seek to increase the amount of information the security agencies – including Mi5, Mi6 and GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the NSA – can legally access for surveillance. The move, the paper says, is a response to more criminals using encrypted communications, which make them difficult to access.

Set to be included in the bill are measures that will clarify bulk data collection, IMSI catchers that can gather mobile data from public space, and security directions to phone companies.

Moreover the bill is expected to determine whether the Home Secretary or a judge has to sign off on surveillance warrants – a number of reviews have recommended the law be extended to include judges – as well as creating a framework for how internet service providers record activity of their users, and potentially establish a new regulator to oversee surveillance.
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The IP bill is one of the pet projects of the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May. Its introduction follows previous attempts by the government to increase the surveillance powers of the security services.

Previously, the government had attempted to introduce the Draft Communications Data Bill, dubbed the ‘snoopers’ charter’ by critics, which would have increased the surveillance powers of security agencies. Following widespread criticism of the bill and it being blocked by the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it was killed off.

The IP bill’s measures are being criticised by civil liberties supporters who say that the government should be more transparent about its surveillance programmes and that there should be safeguards against the misuse of any powers.

Critics also say that the bill could be used to revamp the UK’s mass surveillance schemes, which were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
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The new bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech following the general election earlier this year, is expected to increase the powers that were included in the rejected snoopers’ charter. The charter would have allowed the tracking of everyone in the UK’s web and social media use, whereas the IP bill will include this but also increase the warranted powers of the security services.

Outlining the introduction of the new legislation earlier this year, the UK government said it will “give the police and intelligence agencies the tools to keep you and your family safe”.

As well as this the government said it intends to give more powers to those who are “target[ing] the online communications of terrorists”.