What happens if the instruments of power become more important than the goals to pursue? This is one of the underlying questions which is repeatedly asked in The Pentagon´s Brain, a deeply researched volume investigating one of the most prominence sources of America´s technological edge on the world.
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has a reputation for being one of the few government organizations around the world eager to take risks and thus enjoying enormous payoffs which benefit the US armed forces capabilities to operate in the most different environments around the world. The truth is that for every genius like Von Neumann, one of the fathers of computers as we know them today and a long-time DARPA contributor, the agency has witnessed multiple failures which all but forgotten today. Despite its impact on the world it´s exactly this kind of projects that we should read into- both to understand how technology shapes our approach to problems and how difficult it is to reconciliate the need for innovation with its uncontrollable spawns. Covering everything, the scandals of the Vietnam War and the agency´s researches leading up to the swift invasion of Iraq included, the multitude of eras touched upon mean that the more experienced reader may be sometimes frustrated by the narrow scope the book puts on larger historical and technological paradigms; in the end the rather broad brush used by the author to paint the colorful history of DARPA is functional to pointing out the greatest flaw of technology-driven conflicts: trying to find technical solutions to political problems. For a lecture which is more a collection of documents and interviews than else, this is enough of a strong albeit common thesis to make it a fun read for all those who are looking for an introduction into the topic of military research.
The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency