The Department of Defense's research and development agency is looking for technology that will protect against "cognitive attacks" that could — in theory — disable soldiers wearing virtual or mixed reality devices.
As spotted by The Register, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced an initiative to "build tactical mixed reality systems that protect against cognitive attack." As documents attached to the program page explained, using extremely military-ish jargon:
Such attacks can include information flooding to increase equipment latency and induce physical illness, planting real-world objects to overwhelm displays, subverting a personal area network to sow confusion, injecting virtual data to distract personnel, using objects to overwhelm a user with confusing false alarms, assessing user status through an eye tracker, and other potential attacks.
Though it's not explicitly described as such, The Register pointed out that "physical illness" could be a reference to nausea, which would turn the mixed reality (MR) headsets into "vomit extractors."
Needless to say, ew.
These hypothetical hackers might have a head start. Last year, Bloomberg reported that the MR/VR HoloLens headsets Microsoft had been building for the military since 2021 were apparently crappy in more ways than one — including, per documents the website obtained on the Army's test runs with the goggles, that they caused "mission-affecting physical impairments" including nausea, headaches, and eyestrain.
Unsurprisingly, soldiers said in leaked internal reports that they hated the headsets, and in January of this year, the Army ordered Microsoft to redesign the goggles. When it came to paying for that redesign, however, Congress majorly put the squeeze on and allocated only $40 million to the order instead of the $400 million the Army wanted.
Just last month, the Army announced that its custom HoloLens goggles don't make soldiers need to barf any longer, which certainly sounds like a step in the right direction — but it's still wild that the deal worth nearly $22 billion taxpayer dollars resulted in such bad devices in the first place.
Between the possibility for cognitive attacks from the outside and the goggles' formerly nausea-inducing nature, it's a wonder why Congress didn't completely kibosh the entire project — except, maybe, to save face.
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