DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Department of Defense, is hosting a contest to find red balloons. The balloons, numbering ten, will be scattered across the continental United States on one day: December 5. And the contest, which pays $40,000 to the person or team that finds all ten, is intended to study the Internet is used for social cooperation.
This contest is the fourth sponsored by DARPA; the first three intended to advance the technology for autonomous vehicles. Dr. Peter Lee, a computer scientist for DARPA, says he’s not quite sure how people will respond to the hunt for the balloons, which will be visible from public roadways. He anticipates both cooperation among teammates, as well as subterfuge among competitors to gain advantage.
The question here is not so much why DARPA is hosting a contest to see how teams use the web for social cooperation, but what they plan to do with the data they collect from the venture. It could be a means of sharpening data mining techniques introduced post-September 11 to ferret out potential terrorists. Or, possibly, to identify models of optimal social interaction that can be used to better prepare U.S. defensive capability.
Whatever the purpose, the choice of red for the balloons seems a bit awkward, dredging up memories of the Cold War and Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
Image Credit: Moules Frites/Flickr