DARPA's Very Expensive, Sci-Fi Projects From the Future

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently announced progress on a pair of characteristically futuristic projects: a computer chip that works like the human brain and a mission to visit a nearby star. Right off the bat, these two pursuits sound pretty far-fetched and incredibly expensive, but that's been the government agency's modus operandi since it was founded during the Cold War in order to develop a response to Russia's Sputnik satellite. Today, DARPA describes itself as "100 geniuses connected by a travel agent" and even though it's technically a part of the Defense Department, it operates sort of like a research and development start-up. A lot of DARPA projects sound like they were pulled out of Isaac Asimov novels, but sometimes science fiction concepts become world-changing innovations. DARPA, after all, did invent the Internet and GPS. But some of the others? Well, they're certainly ambitious:

Cognitive Computing - With DARPA funding, IBM and university researchers have been developing a computer chip that mimics the processes of the human brain. "IBM's so-called cognitive computing chips could one day simulate and emulate the brain's ability to sense, perceive, interact and recognize -- all tasks that humans can currently do much better than computers can," reports Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat.

The 100-Year Starship Study - The name says it all. In a century-long project with NASA, DARPA wants to fund an organization that will build a spaceship that can fly to another star. The $500,000 seed grant will be awarded on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11), and researchers couldn't be more excited about the Star Trek-style mission. "If you want to have a hobby, why can't it be designing an interstellar spacecraft?" said Andreas Tziolas, director of Project Icarus.

Read the full story at The Atlantic Wire.