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December 05, 2009

Ten Red Balloons - Do You See One?

DARPA is sponsoring a contest today to demonstrate network effects in the public population.

Ten red, eight-foot, weather balloons are being sent aloft, tethered to the ground, at undisclosed locations across the country. Any team that is the first to identify all ten locations will win a $40,000 prize, a number that calls to mind ARPA's invention of the internet protocol 40 years ago.

A team from Georgia Tech, I Spy A Red Balloon, has announced they'll donate the $40K to the Red Cross, which is a worthy organization.

So if you see a red balloon this weekend, please go to I Spy A Red Balloon and report the location.

Why is DARPA spending $40,000 to conduct this experiment? Let's say that the NSA determined that ten trucks containing really bad explosives were deployed around the country. The trucks were all disguised as, oh I don't know, Widget Trucks. How effective would a national alert posted on the internet be in finding and identifying the ten trucks? How many false reports would be made? Could software analyse the reports and decide which ones were likely to be worth following up? Could shadow bots monitor the internet traffic and the twitter stream and connect the dots? Based on that notion, it's a very interesting civil defense experiment.

Here's a link to DARPA's webpage showing the status of the ten balloons.

Back when I was a kid, "the balloon going up" was a euphemism for the start of combat. The backstory was that in the Civil War, a balloon would be sent aloft as a signal to begin operations. During the Cold War, "the balloon going up" was milspeak for the beginning of WW3.

Here's the story of anti-war protest song 99 Luft Balloons.


Anonymous said...

My inner trouble-maker wishes *I* had a few red weather balloons laying around...

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