Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Military-Education Complex

I tried to get out of writing this story. I've been completing a composer's internship at a music house where I make music to go with commercials, generally composing and producing 2 to 3 spots a week. It's insanely engaging, not to mention time consuming, so the majority of my energy has been going there and not to pitching stories to my editors.

A month ago my editor at Metromode asked me to check out a local youth robotics competition called Robofest and feature a group from Royal Oak high school who placed high with their landmine-detecting robot, called Seeker. It sounded simple and cute and like something I could cram in easily between my composing work. But after some back and forth, my editor asked me to broaden the story to encompass robotics in the Southeast Michigan region in general. That's something completely outside of my area of knowledge and sounded like too big of an undertaking. After some of my interviews flaked on me, and my internship went into overdrive, I tried to get out of the assignment. My editor essentially said, No.

So I dug some more, beginning with a round of interviews at a local Technological College that was sponsoring the competition, including its founder, who teaches artificial intelligence and computer science. By the end of that afternoon I was so unnerved by what I had just heard, by the borderless overlap between military armament funding and higher education, that I couldn't even imagine working on music until I had gotten this story out of my system. Instead, I drove straight to work and spit out a Nuetrogena commercial track aimed at 13-year-old girls. When I got out of work, around 11:00 p.m. that evening, I managed to get in an interview with a rep from the U.S. Army - he was leaving town the next day and graciously allowed me to call him at that late hour.

Four days later, as the birds were waking up just before sunrise, I hit send on this story. I turned in a piece at four times the assigned word count, which would make even the most patient editors consider never working with a writer again. Instead, my editor went for it, taking on the extra burden of last-minute editing work to accomodate our deadline.

I got nothing but cooperation, respect and frank conversation from everybody I spoke to, including the military itself. Still, I can't believe some of the things that people said to me. Can't believe the things that are happening in my state. Can't believe so few people are questioning this.

If you have time, check out the story. I think it's a story worth reading.



Marie Lasferatu said...

DUUUDE. Wow. Hope they get those ethics in robotics classes up and running real quick. Great article.

The Dark Tower said...

Agree with Marie, I have to say maybe not your generation but maybe my generation will see the evolution of nanobots.

Imagine a world where you can regrow an arm through a simple program and a couple trillion nanites? But Imagine also the price, if somebody can hack into the those nanites, they may also be able to program them to kill cells...

Its a dangerous future but its coming one way or another.

Kirsten said...

Loving that you and a 23-year-old have a different generation!

Marie Lasferatu said...

HAHA! I'm 25, which makes it that much funnier.

The Dark Tower said...

2 years is a lot of time in nano years...lol

I was talking about Dan anyway...I thought Dan was in his mid 30s?