The Internet can take you anywhere. If I didn't know that before, I certainly know it now. Recently, I visited a contemporary art museum. Lots of interesting stuff on display, some of it actually good, at least to the eyes and sensibilities of someone like me, who is really more comfortable in a sports museum than an art museum. Toward the end of my visit, I stumbled across what I thought was a tongue-in-cheek exhibit about counter-culture organizations, those that encourage a different approach to life, politics, and civic involvement.
The exhibit was in a small room filled with posters, pictures, food samples (I never figured out why they were there, but I was glad), and some computers. I sat at one computer. It displayed a rotating set of screens that took me through the pages of a website from the "Institute for Applied Autonomy." Now, there's a name to get you wondering. Flashing on the screen was all kinds of information on technology for social activism. It was very entertaining, and I marveled at the imagination of the "artist" who dreamed up the exhibit.
Later, at home, I decided to check out whether that website really existed. So, I went to Google and, snickering, typed in "organizations for applied autonomy." Shazam! There were 523,000 entries. The first was www.appliedautonomy.com, the very site that was the focus of the exhibit.
The homepage says the organization was founded in 1998 as a technology research and development organization "for individual and collective self determination" that provides technology that extends the autonomy of human activists. Among its research projects: contestational robotics, an effort to develop robots that "meet the budget needs of culturally resistant forces." What kind of robots would they be, you ask? I asked the same question, and here is what the website told me: "Propaganda Robot," which delivers pamphlets; and "Graffitiwriter," a tele-operated robot with a custom array of spray cans filled with paint for writing messages on streets. It travels at a speed of 10 mph.
Still amazed, I ran down the list of organizations the site links to. The one that jumped out: DARPA, the government research organization that grew from ARPA, where the Internet started.
Well, I thought, autonomy is great, but I believe in teamwork. Are there any organizations that promote that concept? In Google, I typed in "Institute for Teamwork," and up popped a note saying there were 928,000 entries. Gratified that, in this era of global design projects and their inherent need for collaboration, there would be more websites for teamwork than autonomy, I clicked on the first site mentioned, the Robotics Institute to see what it contained. I got a message that said, "Page cannot be displayed." Something wrong there.
Okay, I decided to make one more attempt at balance. If there is a site for technology for autonomy with liberal-leaning content, is there a site for technology for conservatives? Back to Google, where I learned there are 959,000 entries for "technology for conservatives," more than for the other two categories. One entry looked intriguing. It read, "Issues in Science and Technology: Conservatives Challenge Science."
None of my random searches, of course, will help us in our jobs. But hey, work isn't everything.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.