The Computer Language for Everyman

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A bit over fifty years ago, in the spring of 1964, in the basement of College Hall at Dartmouth College, the world of computing changed forever. Professor John Kemeny, then the chairman of the mathematics department at Dartmouth and later its president, and Mike Busch, a Dartmouth sophomore, typed “RUN” on a pair of computer terminals to execute two programs on a single industrial-sized General Electric “mainframe” computer. The programs were written in Basic (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), a fledgling computer language designed for the everyman, by Prof. Kemeny, Professor Tom Kurtz and a team of eager students.

Back then, using a computer was almost exclusively the privilege of a select minority of scientists and engineers who were conversant in the early languages of assembly code and Fortran. Prof. Kemeny, who had been a programmer on the Manhattan Project for Richard Feynman and an assistant to Albert Einstein, and Prof. Kurtz, a former student of the computing pioneer John Tukey, saw great potential in computers for advancing teaching and research, but they realized that this would require a whole new level of accessibility.

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DARPA Cutting Edge Technology

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The story line of this season’s “24” revolves around terrorists taking control of armed U.S. military unmanned aerial systems – commonly called drones – and attacking London while the U.S. president is in England’s capital city. A key element of our plot in Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes involves a foreign power hacking a U.S. Global hawk unmanned aerial system.

This is a real challenge and one so severe the U.S. military’s premier research institution – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA for short) is investing in cutting-edge research to defeat those enemies who would hack into our drones.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed the unmanned aerial vehicle under its High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) program, military blog Defense Tech reported. DARPA unveiled a prototype of the mini-drone last week during a broader demonstration of over 100 ongoing research projects at the agency.

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Words vs. Spreadsheets

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Have the nerds won? Is it: “Statisticians 10, Poets 0?” It appears so. Increasingly, words take a back seat to spreadsheets as more aspects of life become quantifiable and apps even track our moods. Have we gone too far? Do we need poets any longer?

In the last few years, there has been a revolution so profound that it’s sometimes hard to miss its significance. We are awash in numbers. Data is everywhere. Old-fashioned things like words are in retreat; numbers are on the rise. Unquantifiable arenas like history, literature, religion and the arts are receding from public life, replaced by technology, statistics, science and math. Even the most elemental form of communication, the story, is being pushed aside by the list. We’ve become the United States of Metrics.

But does this crush of data threaten our very selves and our aliveness? Grids, spreadsheets and algorithms take away the sensory connection to our lives, where our feet are, what we’re seeing, all the raw materials of life, which by their very nature are disorganized. Metrics rob individuals of the sense that they can choose their own path, because if you’re going by the data and the formula, there’s only one way. As the greatest numbers person of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, warned, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

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100+ Years of Naval Aviation

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In outward appearance and the scope of their operations, they seemingly have nothing in common. While the A-1 Triad was constructed of wood and fabric with a top speed that would put it in the slow lane on a modern interstate highway, the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System represents cutting edge technology. Yet, these aircraft, for what they represent to the development of naval aviation, are quite similar. Seminal moments in their service occurred in May during which the Navy this year celebrates the 103rd birthday of naval aviation.

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It May Not Be a Platform

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New platforms may not always be the answer to rising military technology needs, according to strategic guidance just issued by the Pentagon’s research and engineering office. “In the near past, technology surprise” came from systems like revolutionary airplanes or ships, states the document. In the near future, “operational advantage may well come from new technologies and capabilities, or from new ways to use existing technologies that enhance and enable” existing platforms.

The research and engineering enterprise will be putting its limited funds to work on many enablers, such as ways to lower lifecycle costs, smart design, prototyping, and risk reduction. The next generation of technology surprises the United States may spring on its adversaries will also likely flow from quantum technologies, nano-engineered materials and devices, new sensors, autonomous systems like unmanned vehicles, and timekeeping/navigation devices that will far outstrip the abilities of GPS, states the document, dated May 1. The latter will likely be attacked and possibly “denied” by adept enemies.

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Technology – Master or Servant?

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In 2014 we find ourselves in awe of technology. And we have been for quite some time. As Arthur Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

However, as technology had advanced by leaps and bounds, this “magic” has made many people wonder and filled others with fear. Few people can forget the chilling scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: Astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole consider disconnecting HAL’s (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) cognitive circuits when he appears to be mistaken in reporting the presence of a fault in the spacecraft’s communications antenna. They attempt to conceal what they are saying, but are unaware that HAL can read their lips. Faced with the prospect of disconnection, HAL decides to kill the astronauts in order to protect and continue its programmed directives.

And it is easy to forget Arthur Clarke’s short story, The Sentinel was published in 1951 and Kubrick’s movie premiered in 1968. We have, indeed, been in awe/fear of technology for a long time. Therefore it should come as no surprise a New York Times Magazine cover story entitled “All is Fair in Love and Twitter is subtitled “The Sweet, Innocent Ideas and Ruthless Power Plays that Created Twitter.” Read more here.