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Randall Amster Headshot

A Googlement Above the People, Around the People, and Ahead of the People

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Conspiracy theorists long have mused about a "shadow government" working its machinations from a secret locale with a cloak-and-dagger ethos. But that's not the post-postmodern way of doing things anymore; in the age of hyper-spectacle, one puts it right out there in a manner reminiscent of what's known as "hiding in plain sight." This is the genius logic that could very well lead Google to conquer the earth and all of humanity -- and with governments everywhere seemingly on the verge of financial collapse anyway, who else would you want keeping track of stuff, watching your back (and front), fighting our undeclared cyber-wars, and making the trains run on time? Next stop, Googletopia!

Before turning to the inevitable conclusion, however, let me deepen the premise a bit more. The days of dark shadows are largely over -- this is what made the Bush Administration so woefully outmoded in its heavy-handedness, namely that they were still trapped in the old-school "Boris and Natasha" way of thinking about the world. You don't accomplish surveillance clandestinely anymore; you simply show up with a camera, self-assuredly point it at people, and watch them volunteer their views. If you want to know what people are up to and who they associate with, you give them a cool avatar and a jazzy personal web space -- plus the buzz of garnering more "friends" every day (just like high school) -- and watch them willingly lay bare the details of their lives. If you want to track someone, hand them a cell phone and let them tweet away their whereabouts for the world to see. Thus have we attained the self-surveilling society.

The whiz kids at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) understand this. They basically invented the Internet (it wasn't Al Gore after all!), GPS (Global Positioning Systems, duh), HumanID (you don't want to know, but they know), FutureMAP (predicting cataclysmic events and making a buck in the process), Deep Green (not just predicting but planning the future), SNM (this one might be painful if it were even remotely comprehensible), LANdroids (they may already be among us!), and a bunch of other cool things like the development of "total information awareness" technologies. Yes, they were commissioned by the Department of Defense to implement the now-defunct (supposedly) Information Awareness Office back in 2002, and were given $200 million in seed money essentially to create electronic dossiers on 300 million Americans (i.e. everyone). Word of this got out, however, mainly because they didn't really even try to hide it, and folks got a bit squirrelly at the notion. So it ceased in 2003, but DARPA still works on aspects of the program today (just for fun -- trust them).

Hey, if you like to chuckle at the emerging brave new world order (and who doesn't?), please visit DARPA's "ongoing programs" site now! Not only is it a science fiction author's ultimate idea repository and writer's-block alleviator, but the folks at DARPA obviously have a sense of humor about their overtly Matrix-like, world-dominating aspirations. These guys make James Bond look like Elmer Fudd, and aside from the fact that what they're doing over there (somewhere in a Virginia mountainside) will likely keep you up at night, they actually seem like folks you'd want to have a beer with someday while kicking around all-too-real concepts like Chemical Robots and Educational Dominance. Just be sure that when you shake their HAND it's actually a real hand and not a "human-assisted neural device." Oh, and they apparently are packing PHASERs over there too, so be cool and don't make any sudden moves greater than a certain unspecified number of Tera-operations per second.

Look, I'm not making any of this up (are they?). But what does it have to do with Google, everyone's favorite way to find free porn -- ahem, I mean, to conduct important research? Well, take for example DARPA's "Scalable Social Network Analysis," which Wikipedia notes "is aimed at developing techniques based on social network analysis for modeling the key characteristics of terrorist groups and discriminating these groups from other types of societal groups." Well, you can't always (ever?) trust Wikipedia to get things right, and indeed they (we?) might be in on the whole conspiracy as well. In fact, DARPA does possess a previously-mentioned SNM program that is blithely described as follows:

"The goal of the Scalable Network Monitoring program is to provide new approaches to network-based monitoring that provide maximum coverage of the network (i.e. from the gateway down) with performance independent of the network size and computational costs that remain a constant (or decreasing) fraction of the computational power of the total network being defended. This technology will provide gateway-and-below (i.e. providing ~100% coverage) network traffic monitoring approaches that scale not above linearly with network size. The end deliverable of this program will provide network defense technologies with performance capabilities orders of magnitude better than conventional approaches."

Got it? Let me translate: Dude, they are all up in your stuff! You think that Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and all the rest are just cool ways to be cool with the cool kids? Uranium and coal, pshaw -- it's all about data mining these days. Devices like Carnivore can smell out your virtual footprints, literally using a "packet sniffer" to monitor all of your Internet traffic. When enough data is compiled, in true DARPA-esque fashion they can basically predict what you'll do before you do it! In this way, your next need can be met before it even fully emerges. This will become the basis for the age of micro-marketing where everyone is a "target audience" unto themselves -- after all, they know you better than you do! -- but alas, this will have to be a subject for another day (the good people at DARPA will help me to discern exactly when is the best time for this).

For now, though, think about who has their finger on the pulse of all of your personal data, from books and friends to emails and searches. Who helps you find whatever you need, and even stuff you don't, at the click of a key? Who completes your search strings, passwords, and email contacts just by you typing in a few letters? Who gives you massive amounts of free online storage space, allows you to take your bona fide credentials along as you surf, maps the surface (and below) of the Earth, digitizes everything ever written in the history of humankind, stores all legal documents and official records, provides banking and financial planning assistance, issues calendar reminders and celebrates holidays with cute images, and now can track you anywhere anytime? Sounds like a perverse (and way smarter?) version of the government, but it's really the Googlement, which "displaces government" even as it "raise[s] comparable issues of legitimacy and authority," and ultimately will comprise a "modern networked administrative state."

The data on you goes somewhere, rest assured, and at the end of the day it's obvious that in Googlement terms, "having that much information is market power." This is eerily reminiscent of DARPA's Information Awareness Office and its classic slogan, scientia est potentia (smile when you say it: "knowledge is power"). Could these two modern-day leviathans -- one operating aboveboard and other toiling underground -- be in league somehow? Well, DARPA's little Internet invention has made Googletonians fabulously wealthy, and they do have some similar language in their respective privacy policies. Quite tellingly, Google Earth has censored DARPA's headquarters from its mapping and imagery databases. Some have even speculated that Google and DARPA are both really just elaborate "brains" developing strategic intelligence. Consider further that their nascent union will almost certainly be abbreviated as G-D, which has all sorts of crypto-hegemonic implications (and in any event is better than GORPA or DARGLE -- or would they go with GARGLE?). And then there's this creepy yet critical little item from 2007:

"Those who worry about Google's impending world domination are probably going to be terrified, but for the rest of us, this is just neat: the search engine giant has made a deal that involves Stanley, the robot car that won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge."

Just another conspiracy theory, you say? I think not. They've got all of our vital statistics, they literally control the map of the world, and now they've got Stanley the robot car working for them as well. C'mon people, wake up and smell the virtual coffee! Orwell wrote that "Big Brother is watching you" -- and later the Situationists realized that it was actually the case that "Big Brother is you, watching" -- but today it should read "Big Brother is you watching others watch you watching them watch you." Get it? Frankly, I don't. I think I'll just do a Google search for DARPA and see if they know what's going on, so that I can finish writing this piece before they go ahead and finish it for me....