Military Wants to Build an Image Search Engine Out of DNA

Edge Canopy |


Ever heard of a reverse image search? People use for instance, Google’s search-by-image feature to see if a person they met online is cat-fishing them, or to shop or search for copyright infringement. People might see an item of clothing they like, and do a reverse image search to locate it online and purchase it.

In order for sites like Google to do such a search, their computer vision algorithms had to undergo training to extract distinct, identifying features such as shapes and textures, colors and other distinctive features from an enormously vast database of images.

A sort of biological quantum computer type thing, researchers are trying to encode that exact process in DNA, causing the molecules to carry out the computer vision work.

The scientific team is being led by Luis Ceze, a University of Washington computer scientist: however the US military mad-science-division DARPA is paying for it and will reap its rewards, as they are known to pour money into lots of things that might be rather innocuous if it didn’t end up in their hands.

The team wishes to accomplish this using our photos. Recently, Ceze’s University of Washington team launched a campaign on social media to obtain 10,000 images from around the planet, and physically preserve the pixels of the images with the building blocks of DNA, the nucleobases adenine, cytosine, thymine, guanine, ect.

They aren’t new to this. They encoded an entire “OK Go” music video into DNA in 2016, setting a record for most amount of data stored in it.

This time they are conducting a sort of publicity operation with the public, crowdsourcing the data and asking people to submit photos and share images on social media with the hashtag #MemoriesInDNA.

“DNA can last thousands of years,”  Ceze said. “So this is essentially a time capsule. What do you want to preserve forever?”

According to Wired:

“UW’s #MemoriesInDNA campaign might be a bit of a gimmick (there are plenty of available, high-quality image databases on which to train a molecular search engine). But the science behind it is a very real attempt to upend the last six decades of computing. DNA-based storage has so far been good only for that: encoding pixels and locking them up in freeze-dried strands invisible to the human eye. So far, no one’s figured out how to retrieve and process DNA-stored data—a necessary first step for creating any kind of serious molecular computing platform.

Who would want that, exactly? Well, Darpa for one.”

Of course DARPA would want that. They always have to take what could be innocuous and brilliant, and turn it against the common man as a tool of warfare.

In the past few months, the “mad science division” of the Department of Defense started pouring millions of dollars into figuring out very new ways to work with data. The program manager for DARPA’s Molecular Informatics program, Anne Fischer said “Molecules offer a very different approach to ‘computing’ than the 0s and 1s of our existing digital systems.”

“The global community is creating data at a tremendous rate, and developing new approaches to access and process this information is critical to address looming shortfalls in storage capacity and computational speed,” she continued.

Her DARPA Molecular Informatics program has so far poured over $15 million to projects like this at Brown University, Harvard, The University of Illinois and more. The American universities constitute a lesser-seen wing of the power-structure: call it “institutional power.”

From Georgia Tech to the University of Washington, DARPA gets it in.

Guess who else participated in the project? A senior scientist at Microsoft, Karin Strauss. He said “Moore’s Law has been all about miniaturization of devices.”

“Electronics are great and will continue to exist, of course, but molecules are the final frontier when it comes to miniaturization,” he continued.

In the future, they say chemistry will change the game of data storage by providing an untapped pool of molecular diversity. Various properties such as polarity, structure, charge and size could be utilized for information storage and processing.

The only question is, will the technology be decentralized and beneficial to the common people, or will it be developed and controlled by people who basically sell their souls to the US Military through DARPA money?


(Image credit: Wired, Gaudi)

This article may be freely republished with attribution to the author, and a working link back to this article at Edge Canopy.


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