A timely reality check
Two years ago, in his book “Rocketeers,” Michael Belfiore celebrated the pioneers of the budding private space industry. Now he has returned to explore a frontier closer to home. The heroes of his new book, “The Department of Mad Scientists,” work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as Darpa, a secretive arm of the United States government. And the revolution they’re leading is a merger of humans with machines.
Belfiore traces the agency’s origins and exploits from the 1957 Sputnik launching (which shocked the United States government into technological action) to the 1969 birth of the original Internet, known as Arpanet, to Total Information Awareness, the controversial 2002 project that was supposed to scan telecommunications data for signs of terrorism. His tone is reverential and at times breathless, but he captures the agency’s essential virtues: boldness, creativity, agility, practicality and speed.