And the technology is poised to expand. For now, it is accessible only at military bases. The next step, says Maeda, is to install it in Humvees and other military vehicles, allowing soldiers to download and act on new information in real time. Some of these vehicles already have some low-bandwidth connections, and Maeda says DARPA is working on ways to make the software work using these thin pipes. In addition, the system may soon deliver new kinds of information. In the next two to three years, it could offer surveillance pictures from circling unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or other sensor systems. It could store biometric information, so that a soldier could see if a civilian being interviewed was a known insurgent suspect. “There is a whole list of enhancements that users have requested that we want to fill,” Maeda says.
If those enhancements are realized, the result will look a lot like a deployed version of what the Pentagon’s big R&D programs have been pursuing. But TIGR is growing organically, in response to the needs of soldiers on the ground. It might be going too far to say that this technology will be the one to force doctrinal and organizational change; perhaps not everyone will embrace it. “No doubt it causes discomfort in those comfortable in traditional intel development,” Michaelis writes. As O’Neal points out, however, everyone involved in fighting the Iraq insurgency is motivated to save soldiers’ lives by every means possible. In some cases, it’s quite personal. “I’m focused on contemporary technology for the current force,” O’Neal says. “It’s all for my son.”
David Talbot is Technology Review’s chief correspondent.