The July 21-27 issue of the New Scientist carries a story about the creation of light-senstive neurons, under the somewhat overwrought headline “Remote Control Brains.”
I have no idea whether the new technology will turn out to be useful, either in developing animals subject to remote control or in treating disease. I hope it does. But the most intriguing sentence in the article is a throw-away. Discussing a paper published in Cell by Yale’s Gero Miesenböck, the story reports:
Within an hour of the paper appearing online, Miesenböck’s phone rang: it was the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wanting to know if his work had possible military applications (he now works with them).
Well, good for DARPA, I say. Maybe there are military applications.
But where was the call from DARPA’s civilian counterpart? Oh right, I forgot: there is no civilian counterpart to DARPA.
Why the hell not? If DoD needs a research-funding unit that combines speed, flexibility, willingness to take risks on low-probability but high-potential-payoff ventures, and freedom from the tryanny of the study sections, why doesn’t the civilian sector need the same thing?