One Brain, Hundreds of Eyes: Darpa Plots Manhunt Master Controller

Thought military tracking technology couldn’t get any creepier? Hold onto your tinfoil hats and hide behind the nearest curtain because the next generation of manhunting gear just took another step closer to reality.

The Pentagon’s bleeding-edge research shop, Darpa, announced this week that it awarded a $14 million contract to defense contractor SAIC to build Insight, its system-of-systems effort to mashup snooping sensors that’ll find human prey on the battlefield.

Darpa has developed loads of sensors and spying gear: everything from the 1.8-gigapixel Argus camera to the Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (given the wonderful acronym, “Vader”) that pinpoints humans, cars and trucks from a distance. But getting all these systems to mesh together so that your average grunt can form a picture clear enough to track a high value terrorist or insurgent in real time is tricky, to say the least. It’s a classic problem in intelligence work: too much information and too much trouble connecting the dots. The result is “information overload” in general, and “information underload” on specific targets.

And that’s the problem that Darpa wants Insight to solve. It’s supposed to help users sift through the heaps of information collected by the U.S. military’s numerous sensor platforms to find just the right information, on just the right targets using the most appropriate combination of spying gear.

Darpa wants Insight to integrate data from a dizzying array of sources. It’s hungry for info from ground moving target indicators, infrared video, multispectral imagery, human tipsters, audio intercepts, even text chats and social media, among others. The idea, though, isn’t to configure the program for a fixed set of inputs, but allow it to be flexible enough to “plug and play” with different sensors as needs dictate.

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