DARPA and Raytheon are developing immortal software
October 31, 2016
Everyone hates computer updates, from the users who constantly forget to install them from the software engineers who resent returning to fix their ol...
Everyone hates computer updates, from the users who constantly forget to install them from the software engineers who resent returning to fix their old code. Yet updating is a necessary task in our modern, tech-dependent civilization, and most people have come to accept it ― except a few brilliant developers, who want to end the annoying process for good.
Most computer users, while waiting for one update or another to finish downloading and installing before they can complete their tasks, have wished for software that works perfectly without the need for regular patching. Unfortunately, most software we use requires routine updates to fix unexpected bugs, unnecessary delays, and other mistakes missed during initial development.
Even a near-perfect piece of software will eventually require an update because the hardware we use is constantly changing and improving, requiring developers to modify code to suit additional devices. This is known as “code rot,” and it is as annoying to engineers and programmers as it is to everyday users. In fact, a large percentage of programmers are devoted to analyzing code, discovering faults, and writing fixes, and many online computer science graduate programs prepare future software developers for this continually growing field, which isn’t about to go away even should update-free software come to fruition.
A few attempts have been made to avoid the tedious task of creating and downloading updates. Back in January 2016, Adobe and MIT built a code that commanded a certain program ― in this case, Adobe Photoshop ― to repair itself. The project, called Helium, was successful: The software could learn which commands were functioning unnecessarily and slowing down the process, and avoid them, effectively preventing the need for common updates. Unfortunately, Helium was a best-case scenario, built using the best tech and run under optimal circumstances. Though it proves proof-of-concept, both Adobe and MIT admit that update-less Photoshop won’t be available to the masses anytime soon.
However, recently the United States government has taken an interest in ending the continuous battle with updates. A failure to update certain programs is a significant cybersecurity risk, as outdated tech is like a house without locks ― it’s an invitation for criminal attack. It’s estimated that 90 percent of software and operating system updates are intended to patch security vulnerabilities. A single computer with un-updated software poses a substantial threat to confidential government information, but given the time and effort necessary to download and install updates, it is probable that plenty of government employees let the procedure slide. Therefore, to keep government data completely safe, the Department of Defense is hoping to end updates for good.
The project by Ratheon Tech and DARPA
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency with the Department of Defense with the goal of developing new technologies that may have military applications. In a partnership with Raytheon BBN Technologies, a defense contractor devoted to research and development, DARPA has initiated a project called Building Resource Adaptive Software Systems (BRASS). Basically, BRASS is a program meant to adapt to changes in resources or environments, allowing it to repair and update without the need for users to click download and install. Feasibly, BRASS could continue operating forever, on any device ― becoming effectively immortal.
DARPA became interested in the concept of immortal software because the military uses more apps than the average civilian might expect. However, because the military operates around the world, constantly moving and changing itself, the need to update its tech is tedious and causes delays. Worse, much of the military’s software is built in-house, so military engineers must devote much of their time to finding and fixing issues rather than creating new tech ― wasting time and money in the process.
A code that doesn’t require frequent updates will liberate all sorts of workers, making tech an even more powerful tool. Of course, as is true with most military-designed tech, such immortal software will eventually find itself in civilian hands, benefitting anyone who uses technology daily.
Raytheon has assembled a team of experts to participate in the BRASS project, including members from Vanderbilt University, Syracuse University, and Oregon State University who understand the advanced theory and practices necessary to construct this futuristic technology. The team expects to encounter similar obstacles as MIT and Adobe did ― namely, extending functionality across platforms so all devices can do without updates. For now, everyone who uses tech can eagerly await their imminent findings.