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September 6, 2008

Military Research

Posted by John Baez

I just got an email from the U. C. Riverside grants office informing me of opportunities to apply for funding from the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative. That sounds pretty bland… but the list of topics they’re funding is anything but! You see, this initiative is run by Office of Naval Research — a U.S. government agency that funds military research.

It’s interesting (and a bit creepy) to see what the U.S. military are excited about these days, so I thought I’d show you.

Will we see this stuff put to use in the next war?

Here’s the email:

The Office of Naval Research has released the DOD MURI solicitation for 2009, ONR-BAA-08-019. The program will make awards to interdisciplinary teams in the following 32 topic areas:

NAVY TOPICS

(1) Cellular, Molecular, Genetic and Biochemical Correlates of Training

(2) Removing the Botnet Threat

(3) Machine Intelligence and Adaptive Classification for Autonomous Systems

(4) Highly Decentralized Autonomous Systems for Force Protection and Damage Control

(5) Bio-inspired Autonomous Agile Sensing and Exploitation of Regions of Interest within Wide Complex Scenes

(6) Computational Intelligence for Decentralized Teams of Autonomous Agents

(7) Dynamic Biological Adaptations to the Undersea Light Field

(8) Grounding Language Understanding in Cognitive Architecture

(9) Tailoring Electronic Bandgap of Nanostructured Graphene

AIR FORCE TOPICS

(10) Neurological System-Inspired Multifunctional Materials Design for Autonomous State Awareness against Exogenous Threats

(11) Chemical Energy Enhancement by Nonequilibrium Plasma Species

(12) Ultracold Molecules

(13) Search for New Superconductors for Energy and Power Applications

(14) Complex Nonperiodic Nanophotonics

(15) Multi-Scale Fusion of Information for Uncertainty Quantification and Management in Large-Scale Simulations

(16) Learning Decision Architectures for Intelligent Cooperative Control of Autonomous Systems

(17) Information Dynamics In Networks

(18) Synthesis, Analysis, and Prognosis of Hybrid-Material Flight Structures

(19) Biophotonics: Optical Effects through Nature’s Photonic Control

(20) Fundamental Graphene Material Studies and Device Concepts

(21) Application Software and Data Protection for Untrusted Platforms

ARMY TOPICS

(22) Disruptive Fibers for Flexible Armor

(23) Network-based Hard/Soft Information Fusion

(24) Tailored Stress-Wave Mitigation

(25) Integrated Quantum Circuits

(26) Adaptive Structural Materials

(27) Transformational Optics

(28) Emergent Phenomena at Complex Oxide Interfaces

(29) Application of Systems Biology to Regenerative Medicine

(30) Mechanisms of Bacterial Spore Germination

(31) Opportunistic Sensing

(32) Cyber Situation Awareness

Proposals may be submitted only by univerisites. National labs, industry, and foreign institutions may collaborate, but they may not receive any MURI funds.

White papers (4pp) are strongly encouraged and are due October 31. Full proposals are due January 9, 2009.

It is common for MURI proposals to involve multiple institutions. Considering that the full proposal deadline is so soon after New Year’s, it would be best to nail down your team and your budgets well before the holidays

The solicitation should be available at https://www.onr.navy.mil/sci_tech/3t/corporate/muri.asp

Amusingly, when I clicked on the above link, my web browser warned me against going there, saying the certificate of this site was unauthenticated (or something like that). Visit at your own risk! I have no reason to be especially suspicious, but it made me wonder. Are there known cases of ‘military phishing’ — like a North Korean agency posing as the Office of Naval Research and inviting grant proposals?

I understand some of the topics listed above, but not all.

Graphene is mentioned twice.

I wrote about this substance in week262 after visiting the nanotech labs in Singapore. Some people think it could be used to build transistors that operate 1000 times faster than current ones.

Topic 6, “Computational Intelligence for Decentralized Teams of Autonomous Agents”, reminds me of this article from New Scientist:

Military robots to get swarm intelligence

25 April 2003

Will Knight

A battalion of 120 military robots is to be fitted with swarm intelligence software to enable them to mimic the organised behaviour of insects.

The project, which received funding this week from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is aimed at developing ways to perform missions such as minesweeping and search and rescue with minimum intervention from human operators.

The project is run by US software company Icosystems, which specialises in creating programs that mimic behaviours found in nature. Their software will use simple rules to co-ordinate complex behaviour among the robots.

“We will be addressing some fundamental questions about control strategies for robotic swarms,” says Paolo Gaudiano, vice president of technology for Icosystems.

The robots’ behaviour has been modelled in a computer environment by Icosystems but the company will now be able to test different approaches in the real world. The 120 robots were built for the US military by I-Robot, a company co-founded by robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks.

I was also reminded of a conversation I had yesterday. I was speaking with some students of a top expert on mathematical physics — classical mechanics, in particular. And, I found out that he’s working with engineers on problems of control theory involving swarms of autonomous agents: like, getting a bunch of robot-controlled vehicles to navigate terrain without human help. As above, the stated applications were very noble, like distributing relief aid.

I’m sure glad they’re not planning anything nasty.

Posted at September 6, 2008 8:42 PM UTC

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13 Comments & 0 Trackbacks

Re: Military Research

Did you mean autonomous agents?

I was speaking with some students of a top expert on mathematical physics – classical mechanics, in particular.

Just think what could be achieved by a top expert on mathematical physics – categorified classical mechanics, in particular.

Posted by: David Corfield on September 7, 2008 11:27 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

Thanks — I fixed the link to the Wikipedia article on ‘autonomous agents’. It’s not a very interesting article yet… maybe I should have linked to the program of the workshop called Autonomous Agents ‘99, or something like that. Talk titles like ‘Evolutionary Group Robots for Collective World Models’, ‘Model-based Autonomous Systems in Deep Space’ or ‘Marsupial-like Mobile Robot Societies’ give some flavor of the subject.

Just think what could be achieved by a top expert on mathematical physics — categorified classical mechanics, in particular.

Well, I’m perfectly happy that the top expert I’m alluding to isn’t working on that yet. His students were getting interested in it. But I’d like to get some more work done on this subject before other people move in!

I’ve noticed that when a bunch of people start working on what I’m doing, I start wanting to switch to something else. I like wide-open spaces full of untapped possibilities, and plenty of time to mull them over. I don’t like having to keep up with other people in a kind of race. I used to feel that was sort of exciting. Now it’s just tiresome.

Posted by: John Baez on September 7, 2008 10:32 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

I was alluding to you.

Posted by: David Corfield on September 8, 2008 10:12 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Requirements Creep; Re: Military Research

Perhaps you could annotate these lists with trits:

(-1) a bit creepy
(0) don’t understand
(1) interesting

Then your readers/colleagues can explain the few that you don’t understand, expand on creepiness, and amplify interestingness.

“Will we see this stuff put to use in the next war?”

Yes.

And what makes you think that none are being put to use in the current war(s)?

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on September 7, 2008 6:13 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

Creepiness and interestingness are rather subjective, and I think we can all make our own decisions about those…

But, I’d like to know more about:

(1) Cellular, Molecular, Genetic and Biochemical Correlates of Training

Is the idea to understand what happens to people at a biological level when they get ‘trained’? What sort of applications are envisaged?

(7) Dynamic Biological Adaptations to the Undersea Light Field

What types of dynamic adaptations are we talking about here? Vision? Camouflage, as in octopi? I can imagine the Navy wanting underwater craft that could do stuff like that.

(10) Neurological System-Inspired Multifunctional Materials Design for Autonomous State Awareness against Exogenous Threats

Are we talking about buildings or vehicles that know when they’re being attacked?

(14) Complex Nonperiodic Nanophotonics

What’s ‘nonperiodic’ nanophotonics? Amorphous as opposed to crystalline silicon, or something else? What’s really going on here?

(28) Emergent Phenomena at Complex Oxide Interfaces

What kind of phenomena? What applications are envisaged here?

It could be the blandest titles that conceal the most revolutionary and scary projects.

Posted by: John Baez on September 7, 2008 11:00 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

John wrote:

Is the idea to understand what happens to people at a biological level when they get ‘trained’? What sort of applications are envisaged?

Maybe exercise in a pill?

Posted by: Greg Egan on September 8, 2008 12:12 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

John said: It could be the blandest titles that conceal the most revolutionary and scary projects.

Actually the reason that some of the areas have rather strange or bland sounding titles is quasi-earmarks - various researchers have long been in communication with the various program offices that assign the grants and expect to receive further grants. So there is a quasi-collusion where say Team-X’s research gets turned into a Topic areas using rather strange language that Team-X knows best how to speak and thus they get a grant on that topic.

This isn’t really illegal because it is possible for other teams to crack the code and get grants - in fact this is desired.

But in general, people in the know can look at the topic areas and know who those topics were written for.

Posted by: RodMcGuire on September 8, 2008 6:51 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

The conference series Mathematical Foundations of Programming Semantics, last year organised by Peter Freyd and Andre Scedrov, has always had ONR support and if you go there you get loads of domain theory and category theory.

Myself I was paid by ONR for several months in absence of other funding, and I know many other people who have enjoyed ONR funding for what looks like pure maths.

As a moderate anarchist I do not have much of a problem with taking money from them.

Posted by: bob on September 7, 2008 7:23 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

I think it’s fine to take money from the military and spend it on pure mathematics — the purer, the better!

Posted by: John Baez on September 7, 2008 9:59 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

“Amusingly, when I clicked on the above link, my web browser warned me against going there, saying the certificate of this site was unauthenticated (or something like that).”

The reason it did this is because the military runs its own certificate authority, separate from the civilian ones. I assume they do this because they don’t trust the civilian certificate authorities to not give certificates to bad guys from other countries. Unfortunately, that means for us that all their certificates look uncertified. I’m sure there’s a way to configure your browser to recognize their cert authority, but I don’t know what it is.

Posted by: Matthew L. on September 7, 2008 8:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

In Firefox, Options > Advanced > Encryption > View Certificates shows you what certificates you trust. There is Visa, the Turkish certificate authority, and many others. There is an import button there. Also when you go to an “uncertificated” page you can, after several very stern looking warnings (“Your bank will not ask you to do this!”), give an exception to accept a certificate.

But then YOU would be trusting THEM. ¿Do you want that?

Posted by: Ezequiel Martin Camara on September 22, 2008 2:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

Parts of the above one and similar other lists sound as if they were inspirated by Lem’s “Weapon Systems of the 21st Century or the Upside Down Evolution”.

Posted by: anon on September 9, 2008 10:00 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Military Research

Have a look at Keye Martin’s affiliation. You find it on the front page of his domain theory tutorial posted here at the cafe. Anyone who has ever seen Keye in action might find this an amusing fact.

Posted by: bob on September 10, 2008 4:48 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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