Tuesday 1 March 2016

Birdkill And Making War Cool

If you needed proof I am truly ancient, I know what these computers are.

One of the things I love best about the Internet is how it started. The DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Project Agency, part of the US Department of Defence) network was designed to survive a nuclear holocaust and still retain the capability to hit back at the Russians - all part  of a neat piece of thinking which, handily, answers to the acronym of MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea, which was really quite nice and simple, was to let the Soviets know that if they hit first and succeeded, Uncle Sam would retain the ability to hit back and get 'em even if they scored a nuclear bullseye. To do that, you needed a network that could, literally, withstand a series of nuclear strikes. And so we have the Internet.

These days there are some shrill denials of this fact and attempts to rewrite history a little ("No way, guy. We always intended the Internet to benefit all of humanity. We didn't do that bad stuff. That's so not us."), but there is crucial surviving testimony that very much backs up the MAD aim of the ARPANET.

The Americans may have invented the toilet seat, but it took a Brit to put a hole in it. Tim Berners-Lee was the man who invented the 'Web', the Hypter Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that makes the Internet more useful than just some connections between computers. Funnily enough, he's quite contrite about the //, which was merely a programming convention at the time and represents two bytes of wasted communication in every browser call.

And so we take this essentially evilly-intended technology and we turn it into a vehicle for watching dogs ride robot vacuum cleaners and making videos of kids unpacking toys. It's the ultimate sticking of a flower into the army's gun barrels. It's cool when we can turn bad tech into fun tech.

DARPA may like to dress up what it does as fluffier than inventing new ways to murder people, but war is war. Throughout, it has consistently flirted with human augmentation and eugenics programs, including a number of strands that explore the use of genetics in such efforts. The Hamilton Institute in Birdkill is, sadly (as I have said before) not really far fetched at all: there are programs in place today that make the bonkers place in the book appear so sensible, it's virtually staid.

DARPA is spending multiple billions of dollars annually in these research programs, some of which are very worrying indeed. Truth being stranger than fiction, the stuff these guys are investing in actually makes Birdkill's mad scientist Lawrence Hamilton seem perfectly sane and normal.

So there we have it. The people who created the Internet are now working on super-humans. I only hope we'll find as creative a way of exploiting their inventions...

Birdkill, by the way, went 'live' on Amazon today. So do feel free to nip off and buy your copy. You can also find it on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and all other fine online ebook retailers as well as in paperback.

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