back to article DARPA seeks Hitchhikers Deep Thought program

Pentagon boffinry chiefs are seeking to develop radical AI software capable of boiling down information from the news, overhead spy planes, wiretaps and so on "into a form that is more suitable for human consumption". Specifically, this means using the data to produce "a cohesive story that is germane to the goals of a decision- …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    Wire up existing supercomputers into a grid.

    Super-Grid computing.

    That'll do until they can be bothered to make a light powered quantum computer grid at nanoscale or whatever.

  2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    DARPA? Ha!

    Isn't that what our very own HM Government have been trying to convince us to pay for over the last few years? ID cards and the UberIntelligentContactPointCentralisedDistributedDatabase?

    The one with which all civil servants will finally be able to deservedly rest and medidate at their desks and which will, all by itself, magically identify terrorists, foreigners, paedophiles, old-age pensioners, MPs and tax evaders and take the necessary automatical countermeasures.

  3. breakfast

    Nice work if you can get it.

    I would love to work on a project like this. I don't believe that it is possible even on a philosophical level - nobody has even managed natural language processing yet as far as I know - but it would be hella fun to explore the field.

  4. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Red or Blue Pill? How about a Green Card? :-)

    "It seems pretty unlikely that this can really be done, .." I would Disagree and would Posit IT has been Done.

    "Such a computer would presumably be able to give a simple answer to the most impossible questions. Sadly, it does seem rather likely that the answer would typically be "42" or similar"

    C42 Quantum Control Systems are into such Fields of Applied Perception/Virtual Reality as Real Default. ......albeit having decided to take the Scenic Alien Root to Garner Apache Renegade Resources for Prime Time Play, Virtually.

  5. Rob

    I might be sprouting philosophical crap here but...

    The workings out of an answer are probably more important than the answer itself so the machines results would probably make very little sense to anyone, just like the #42 answer which is, incidentally, the correct answer. You just have to look at how it was worked out or something...

  6. Anonymous Coward

    They might not get the answer they want

    If the program is built on some funky but fundamentally sound rational principles, It will probably tell them that all their efforts are misguided and that they need a combination of police force, strong diplomacy, economic carrots and sticks,and civil engineers to "win the peace". The software will reach that conclusion because it won't have the human confirmation bias that says "bomb the darkies, I need to justify my budget".

    Expect it to be killed stone dead.

  7. J. Cook Silver badge

    Not Deep Thought...

    ... But Rather Skynet.

    Mines the one with the burn marks from a 40 watt phased plasma rifle.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Blame the software?

    If something terrible goes wrong with a decision based on the results, it'll be the program's fault, right? Making storage and retrieval of data is not bad, neither is linking potential connections between bits of data, but doesn't Google already have a system that does this as well as can be designed without making the application itself jump to conclusions? Didn't a system like this get designed to go beyond it's realistic moral possibilities in the Terminator? What if it ends up pointing all of the issues that need addressing at certain popular politicians of the world, or is its design to protect them from the peasants who complain too much about dying? With all the mass murder in the name of "freedom" and "rebellion" I hope the IT specialists keep it simple and realistic to just stating the known facts and leave the conjecture to the meat-sacks, at least then we'll have someone to blame when the wrong people keep being killed/toxified/ignored in the name of <insert short-sighted moral-sounding insanity here>.

  9. Graham Marsden


    ... will it be able to deduce the existence of rice pudding and Income Tax...?

  10. Lupus
    Thumb Up

    Fire up the LHC!

    This can only be achieved once we find that eluive Narrativium!

  11. dAVE SHIT


    Leonidas's wife, River Tam and that other one are going to be on this like stink on a dead robot/human thingy.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deep Thought? Sounds more like "Reason"

    The program from “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency” called "Reason" may be more desirable by DARPA – or at least by the senior government officials like to use such a program.

    For those who do not know/remember, there are many programs that analyze the data fed to it, and are able to produce a reasonable analysis of the situation. Unfortunately, that analysis is often wrong, where “wrong” means the program did not produce the desired analysis. We have seen this problem occur frequently in the last few years.

    “Reason” was a program that fixes this problem. The desired result is fed in, the relevant data is fed in, and Reason constructs an analysis from the data that matches the desired result.

    Unfortunately, after creating this wonderful program, the United States Department of Defense bought all rights to use Reason.

  13. RogueElement
    Paris Hilton


    I am a little confused when you say, "a form that is more suitable for human consumption" is that "form" as in reductive translation from expressive and useful English into manipulative bang-my-head-against-a-wall-again spin... and is it to be "suitable" for us educated humans who have a mind of their own or is it just for the egotistical psychopaths that govern us to use against the general public?

    Don't try to answer that - just print the comment for a change.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Real Story?

    "What, for instance, would be the real story behind a situation in which a military research bureau solicited a piece of miraculous software which could always work out the real story behind events?"

    I vaguely remember working on something like this for about three years, but the only compensation I ever got was an envelope full of ordinary items like a subway ticket and some ball bearings.

  15. Nick L


    > I would Disagree and would Posit IT has been Done.

    "There is another theory, which states that this has already happened"

  16. Paul
    Thumb Up


    I guess a few hundred million in development costs is worth it. The pollies will have to admit they ignored the advice next time they wan't a little dust up in a foreign country. The forces an intel services can point the all knowing DARPATron.

    The computer says... Nawh!

  17. Robin

    The Question...

    Hey computer, tell me how many billions of dollars this crazy setup cost us?

    "Erm, hang on, I know this one. It's..."

  18. Jon Tocker

    Sounds like they want to build...

    "Colossus" (as in the book by Dennis Feltham Jones) - it, too, was designed to pull in data from everywhere, sort it and render it in useful forms.

    That was until it deduced the Russians were building a similar unit, communicated with it and decided that the only way to bring about peace was to merge with "Guardian" (the Soviet version of itself) and take over the world.

    Here's hoping no bugger decides it'll be a bright idea to hook this proposed machine up to the US's weapons systems so it can automatically attack any "foes" it identifies.

    The white lab coat with "C. Forbin" on the security badge, please...

  19. AngrySup

    Don't know about everyone else, but...

    This article is going to my leadership 'chain'. "Hey, look! They're working on software to replace me. I'll keep up on the story and let you know when I can be replaced."

    Nice to have another few (cough/20) years in the job. Mine's the one being hung up as I settle into my desk.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics

    Reminds me a little of an excel sheet I whipped up to get me out of doing pointless work at my last job. The managers decided that every month, us engineers were to compile a report on where all the downtime was, and what had caused it, and how it impacted production. The operators logged all the production data in different spreadsheets on the network, so I set up SQL queries to find this info, add it all up for each area, categorize each cause, calculate efficiencies and list it out in a nice easy to read format. All I had to do was enter a date range to search and add some text to explain why the larger numbers were so much larger or smaller than the targets. The biggest issue was checking the input file to make sure the operators were using the correct format or miscategorizing

    Compiling all of that information manually took at least 4 hours of tedious sorting, adding and subtracting, but I set up the program in about a day, with another day of tweaking. Saved me at least a day of sheer boredom every month.

    It sounds to me like this would be something similar, only on a much larger scale. Keyword searches and statistics. Find out how many news articles or forum posts mention whatever you're interested in learning about and note whether there's more or less than last month. Cross reference whatever other points were being made in the same article. Categorize each article as being positive, negative or neutral based on wording. Interesting, but nothing too mysterious if you ask me.

  21. John Angelico

    @graham marsden

    Probably not - especially while it's suffering that pain in all the diodes down the left side...

    We obviously need a H2G2 icon

  22. Richard

    Not skynet either

    More like FUCKUP from Illuminatus! - computer generated synthesis of conspiracies

    All Hail Eris!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They want to get the real story behind a story etc???

    Then why are they even bothering referring to News feeds at all?

  24. shay mclachlan
    Thumb Up

    This is doable

    This is quite easy to do, all they need to do is modify the 'Twat-O-Tron' software.

  25. Chris


    it's Multivac/Univac, isn't it?

  26. Stephen Hunt
    Black Helicopters

    Story? What story?

    To come up with 'what's the real story here' presumes that these is a story hidden in the complex information, it also presumes that there is a single story.

    One person's real story is another person's meh.

  27. druck Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Pork based fairy tails

    The fact that this is even being considered shows that the intelligence services are buried under the torrent of crap resulting from unwarranted mass surveillance, and completely incapable of making any use of it. So instead of going back to the only affective method of feet on the ground hum-int, they are instead looking to hand out yet more pork funding for a fairy tail generator.

    I can just see how it works now; some IT vendor tweaks a data warehouse application designed to spot the relationship between purchases of washing power and chocolate biscuits, to look the NIR all the other intrusive databases. It adds 2 and 2 to make 5127 and spits out a list of foreign sounding names. The next day mass dawn raids by anti-terror police are all over the news, and handily leaked briefings indicate an imminent terror plot and dozens of arrests of highly dangerous individuals. 42 days later a couple of detainees are charged for immigration offences, and possession of extreme porn, while the rest are quickly booted out the back door of the police station at 3am in the morning.

  28. Red Bren

    Heard this one before

    Can't remember the author, may have been Arthur C Clark. The military of some country build a system like this to analyse field reports from local commanders, intelligence from spies, etc and spit out a strategy for winning a long drawn out war. But the local reports were all "sexed up" by their writers who had a vested interest in presenting a positive view of the battle. In the end, the top brass took to flipping a coin...

  29. Janko Hrasko
    Thumb Up


    I remember reading some sci-fi, where all future wars were fought between military computers, reacting to one another's models. In the real world , there were no wars at all.

    As for this article, I'm a big fan of DARPA. I think that unless humanity can make reasonably working models of itself, we'll be forever doomed in the chaos. It was A. C. Clarke that mentioned in one of his novels that in the future all political theories were first thoroughly tried and tested against their virtual models before anything got implemented.

    That's where I think this is all going in the long run. There is far too much data out there for anyone to even attempt to make the sense of. We need working models.

    @All hail Reason - the perfect weapon :-D

    There was a report released lately about the most likely shape of the future warfare. Rings any bells?

  30. kyle elliott

    I dont think this is wise

    Seriously, Skynet anyone? How many times have we told you, AI is not a toy, don't treat it lightly, or it will f'ing kill you.

  31. Estariel

    The Prophet of Our Times


    Deep Thought


    Douglas Adams, where are you, when we needed you?

    Douglas pointed the way for this project already.

    When the first run of the DARPA project reports back something like "Global turmoil is caused by US military adventurism and unsustainable resource depletion." they will quickly start adding further parameters or "facts" to it, such as "US population is unilaterally entitled to 25% of the world economic output".

  32. Gordon Grant

    Yes the answer maybe........

    42 but to be perfectly honest I didn't know the ultimate question and I cannot know the question but I can help built the computer that can find that ultimate question who's bootstraps i'm not worthy enough to even lick...

    DNA was right...

    I think someone once figured out what the universe was all about and it got replaced by something even more bizarre...

  33. matt beard

    Can't help wonder if they had just read 'Blink'?

    I remember reading that book 'Blink' by that bloke Malcolm Gladwell a while ago, (according to some Register journalist this makes me a dumbo but i knew that anyway).

    Anyway, i sort of remember the book generally arguing the point that human decision makers end up getting it wrong more often if they have too much superfluous infomation to deal with so this seems to echo the conclusion that condensing or ignoring vast junks of 'drivel' should improve them (or summin or nuthin). Funnily enough, i also remember it describing some top military projects (possibly using DARPA) creating massively complex intelligence information systems at the displosal of army generals that they pitted against one vietnam vet general in a war game in 2000. Needless to say apparently he kicked their arse with a third the information available and they subsequently still gave the project the go ahead and used it in Iraq (don't quote me on that).

    kinda makes me wonder if they are just using that same 'intelligence' system, updating it so it can now watch TV, & calling it a posh new name to keep the old pennies rolling in? sounds like a bit of fun actually.

    mine's the white lab coat and matching crazy hair attachement - cool!

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