A team of Stanford researchers, led by scientist Abbas El Gamal and including researchers Keith Fife and Phillip Wong, are developing a new semiconductor camera sensor with thousands of individual lens elements which can be mass-produced cheaply. The aim: to create sophisticated three-dimensional digital scans quickly. But they didn't do it so that you could fashion a really bitchin' avatar in Second Life. Try "facial recognition for security purposes." Because the current crop of surveillance cameras and robots aren't very good at recognizing people or estimating depth, and if you want to build a mechanized assassin, the thing needs to be able to tell the difference between Kim Jong Il and Hu Jintao or the diplomatic corps is going to have hell to pay. True, there are peaceful applications for such technology. But how about we take a look at where the El Gamal Research Group gets its funding from?
Meet the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation: "The Hertz Foundation's mission is to build America's capacity for innovation by nurturing remarkable applied scientists and engineers who show the most promise to change the world. With an invincible robot army." Emphasis, and wholly fabricated final sentence, are mine. According to Hertz's bio, he rose through the ranks from sportswriter to car salesman to taxi and bus manufacturer — and managed to score big defense contracts in the first and second world wars.
But Hertz was a man who wanted to give back to the community, and by giving back to the community, I mean turning his war profits into a fund to support military research. Edward "Father of the H-Bomb" Teller suggested that the applied sciences would be a good breeding ground for new and better killing technology, and the administration of the foundation was largely turned over to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Current board members include Wilson K. Talley, PhD, who was a member of Reagan administration's transition team "dealing with policy issues in space and national defense." Too Cold War? How about Ruth A. David, PhD, who started the Homeland Defense Strategic Thrust in 1999 "to address the growing national concern of multi-dimensional, asymmetric threats from rogue nations, sub-state terrorist groups, and domestic terrorists." Which was just about the time Condoleeza Rice was leaving her post at Stanford where, among other duties as provost, she managed the school's research funding budget.
This isn't a conspiracy theory, because it doesn't have to be. When it comes to investment in truly new technology, the real money isn't in mobile devices or social networks — it's in weapons, incredibly scary weapons, and lots of them. I point it all out to remind everyone on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War just who butters the bread around here. Now go turn those swords into plowshares. (Photo by Stanford News Service/L.A. Cicero)