Water cools, wind blows, fire burns and, apparently, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) finances the creation of nightmarish technology that makes a battle-hardened cyber-ninja like myself want to spend the rest of his life barricaded indoors watching the history channel. Some people may view this as an overreaction, others (my girlfriend) might say things like "how is that different than how you behave now, except that you forgot to include 'while eating Con Queso dip with a spoon and avoiding responsibility'?" To them I say this: you'd better go ahead and buy the value pack of adult sized Depends because you are going to lose any serious control you had over your bowels when you see what DARPA has planned.
Apparently Xiang Zhang and several other physicists that needed to be beaten up more in high school have gotten their heads together and decided to extend a very nerdy middle-finger to the laws of physics.
Step one in our bat-shit flight into ripping a hole in time and an assured path to a dystopic alternate reality where Charlton Heston kisses an ape?
"The proposals included crafting what amounts to an array of billions of tiny relays; in essence, the relays would capture light and send it back out. Depending on the specific design of the array, the light would be bent, reflected, or skewed in different ways... ...to render objects invisible. "
Yeah, and I have an idea for an affordable Lamborghini powered by hopes and dreams. This is what happens when you get a bunch of PhD candidates together and remove the crushing taunts of their peers and the constant threat of wedgies: they get all uppity and try to show everyone that the fantasies of us mere mortals are nothing compared to the nonsense that they can dream up.
“The ability to fly and see through women’s clothes? Poppycock! I foresee a time when man will simply blink and he will not only travel from point a) to b) but he will have absorbed a life-time’s worth of porn and fast-food along the way. With no weight gain. And a tan!"
Or something along those lines.
Either way, these gang of Tri-Lams are attempting to take step one on the pathway to building some sort of Defense Department-funded Predator suit. I seem to recall an entire industry (read: half of Arnold Schwarzenegger's filmography) of movies being devoted to the government creating these types of weapons and then these same weapons falling in to the hands of 12 different cocaine cartels and a Jamaican Voodoo posse. Super. Generally, those movies also only involved some new kind of rocket launcher or a super-smart chimp, not some super suit that turned the wearer frickin' invisible. Are you ready for a turf-war involving a bunch of coked out invisible Colombians vs. a bunch of stoned, invisible Jamaicans...?
"Now featuring Invisibility... Funny hat sold separately."
Hold on. Wait a minute. Breathe deep. Maybe I'm just overreacting: while creating something that renders the wearer invisible would have plenty of beneficial applications (pantie-raids) the likelihood of any group having the techno-knowhow to make this stuff work if they managed to steal it would be close to nil. Deeeeeep breath. I guess this isn't so bad after all. Now how can I get rid of all of these adult diapers?
"It's a good thing I'm invisible; I look like Lewis Skolnic. Wait..."
But hold your horses: Zhang wasn't done yet. Apparently short-circuiting one fundamental law of physics wasn't enough for our intrepid overachiever:
"He [Zhang] wondered: Could he take a material that wasn’t intrinsically magnetic and magnetize it by altering its physical structure alone?"
So, what you're saying is that it isn't enough that you're creating an invisibility suit but now you want to give it the ability to magnetize heretofore un-magnetic materials? Great, now we've got invisible coked-up Colombians that can climb walls and screw up the reception on my T.V. Wonderful.
But I digress.
The answer to Zhang's above question regarding the ability to make things magnetic, frighteningly, turns out to be ‘yes’. I won’t bore you with the details – it involves plenty of chicken wire and more than a few 80’s montages before the final result is realized.
"Man, who knew you could do so much with a 1.5 MB hard-drive?"
Needless to say, captain dipshit here just figured out a way to magnetize materials that lack magnetic properties. Fantastic. I spend years building a non-magnetic stealth Vespa and you tell me that now that it’s worthless because some ass-hat found a loophole in fundamental physics? Well, at least I still have my claim to “1987 Cub-Scout Pinewood Derby district semi-finalist”.
So now what we have here is someone creating the technology to a) be invisible in any spectrum and b) climb walls and levitate anything. Great. Now all we have to do is make it able to see through walls and we've got an invisible Iron Man. Hopefully no one's working on that technology right now...
"Tiny objects are difficult to observe because they have almost no reflection to focus on. But [they] realized that when light hits a small object, the impacting radiation triggers a subtle effect that manifests itself as a pattern of local waves. The waves vanish without a trace almost immediately after being generated. [He] thought that if meta materials were built and positioned just right, they could pick up, preserve, and process these evanescent waves, converting them into a form that could be resolved into useful images."
I need to learn when to shut my mouth. Thanks Zhang, now you’re going to allow the hybrid invisible-magnetic killer robot that you just built to break me down on a molecular level in real time and find my weak points (note: it's Harry Potter books and chicken wings) Why don’t you just give him the password to my twitter account and tell him about my comic collection so he can embarrass me via the interweb while he invisibly guts me and makes inside jokes regarding my chromosome pairs. Ass.
“Fundamental physics sets no limits,” [Zhang] says.
Fantastic. Wonderful. (Insert 3rd synonym for "Amazing" here). The last time anyone sounded that cocky Kiefer Sutherland ended up getting his face rearranged by some mutant dead kid that he knocked out of a tree as a teenager in Flatliners. Let’s throw some more DARPA money at this – I’ve got shit to do and massive amounts of terrorizing nightmares that I would like to see made real.
"Well, at least we all went on to promising movie careers... Oh, sorry, I didn't see you there Billy Baldwin. Backdraft was awesome."
And how did he get funding for his reality warping pet-projects you ask? By jokingly referencing a children’s book and having some half-wit from the Defense Department take him seriously. I shit you not – you can’t make this crap up.
"[Zhang's] work on meta materials is notoriously complicated and serious, so it is ironic that the most famous implication of his research—the invisibility cloak—began as a joke. Heeding the suggestion of a colleague, he decided to have some fun with a lecture he was delivering at a 2004 DARPA meeting. He knew meta materials could theoretically hide objects from sight, so he made a Harry Potter reference—but not the one you might expect. He brought up Platform 9¾, the invisible departure point for Harry’s trip to Hogwarts, drawing some laughs from the crowd. “And then the DARPA woman started taking things seriously,” [Zhang] says. 'She offered me half a million dollars to work on it.' "
Really? Is this what it takes to get government funding for projects – making sly, chuckling references to children’s fiction? I see several problems with this, not the least of which is the simple fact that pretty much all PhD physicists and anyone else making proposals to DARPA are likely to be about as well socialized as your average comic store owner but with one small difference: the intelligence to make their nerd-dreams a reality, given some choice government funding and a lack of oversight that only the U.S. is capable of. Mark my words, 10 years from now when we’ve got a race of building-sized stripper robots ripped off of some Robotech cartoon towering over us you’ll wish you’d listened to me and taken a baseball bat to that future PhD candidate that blew the bell-curve in your physics 120 class.
"How Jimmy remained a virgin was a mystery to all..."
Had I known that it would be this easy to vacuum money out of dimwitted government bureaucrats I would’ve studied a lot harder in high school. Not in physics or math or anything like that though – in graphic design. That way I could forge me up some business cards and diplomas with fancy acronyms on them and avoid all of that book learnin’. I’d just sidle up to a lectern at some government symposium, babble about “sonic-karaoke” and “mutant rainbow diesel-powered Manga cheerleaders” and wait for the government grants to roll in. And I don't even have to make this crap work - that's the brilliant part about working with emerging technologies: 99% of them never pan out. I can spend all day in the desert test-firing anti-tank weapons at pyramids of televisions for "research" and not have to produce anything other than graphs that I draw in crayon.
"Soon afterward, Smith approached [Zhang] to tell him that he would like to build a cloak for real. “I told Smith he must be crazy, and then he did it,” [Zhang] says, chuckling."
Showoff. Well, shit, I guess I’ll just have to be content with being a sex-god malcontent shining a light on government misdeeds (read: sex-starved malcontent whining about being outworked by people more dedicated and smarter than him). Now where are my sweatpants and Thor helmet?
If this wasn't bad enough, these emerging technologies and meta materials are not just limited to the Nerd wet-dreams of invisibility, magnetism and X-Ray vision. Nay, Zhang believes that there are many other applications, including "universal fabricators, counter top food factories, intracellular longevity boosters, even telepathy implants". Thankfully though, the funding and overall time investment in this field is sorely lacking, so we shouldn't have to worry about these walking nightmare suits for quite some time.
Apparently Zhang has created a laboratory specifically for the study and creation of the materials necessary for these technologies
Well fuuuuck me. George Jetson over here is going to make me a counter top telepathic food factory and a universal fabricator straight out of Star Trek. This all leads me to one paranoid-schizophrenic conclusion: the government is funding the overachiever from your local high school to build them a Predator robot that is infinitely scarier than the original – complete with telepathy, immortality, magnetic powers, the ability to create anything out of thin air and, in all likelihood, the ability to not be out thought by Austrian ex-pat future Governors of California using a snare lamer than the board game Mouse-Trap.
"Don't look behind you... Kill me!! Do it! Do it now!"
If Jesse Ventura with a mini gun and Billy ended up on the original version of the Predator’s trophy rack then the new and improved DARPA Predator is going to be nothing short of the 7th sign of the apocalypse. We.. are... screwed.
"there will still be one big limitation: Anyone inside the invisibility cloak would not be able to see out, for the same reason that an outside observer could not see in. “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. It would be like being inside a silvery bubble,” explains [Zhang]. Would-be invisible men will have to figure out a way to cut out a visor, or perhaps decloak before accidentally walking into a wall."
So what you’re saying is, now that you’ve spent all of this taxpayer money, what we have left over is a very large, telepathic, semi-magnetic, immortal, invisible killing machine that is, what, blind? Awesome. When you guys are done dry-docking this thing next to the Spruce Goose, how about you give me a call? I would like to talk to you about the military applications for my above mentioned mutant rainbow diesel-powered Manga cheerleaders. I’m sure I can get you an unworkable prototype by this summer if we throw enough money at it – I’ve got tons of spare time and a nigh inexhaustible supply of duct-tape and toilet paper tubes for the scale model, plus I need something better to do with my time than watching more reruns of Ax-Men on cable.
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