Video Game Technology to Be Used by NRO, the US Spy Satellite Agency

By Trevor Paglen (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Trevor Paglen (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) of the United States is apparently looking into technologies developed by video game makers to improve its ability to collect and analyze intelligence data. This is based on an NRO research proposal released this Monday. Part of the proposal states that the agency seeks to explore the possibility of using the video game industry’s “innovative algorithms”and “enhanced visualization techniques.”

The National Reconnaissance Office

NRO is one of the 16 intelligence agencies of the United States, regarded as part of the “big five” along with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Security Agency (NSA), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Based in Fairfax County, Virginia, it is responsible for the designing, building, and operation of spy satellites for the US government. It works with the NSA by being the source of signals intelligence. It also serves as the imagery intelligence provider of the NGA and the measurement and signature intelligence supplier of the DIA.

The National Reconnaissance Office cooperates with various agencies of the United States government to track weapons of mass destruction, prevent acts of terrorism, locate terrorists, develop military target information, provide support to natural disaster mitigation efforts, and extend help in international peacekeeping and relief activities.

By U.S. Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why NRO Wants to Use Video Game Technology

As indicated in the NRO proposal documents, the agency aims to make use of video game technology to improve data collection. It’s mostly about intelligence data gathering, sorting, management, and analysis. The impressive algorithms created by video game developers as well as the highly improved visualization techniques in modern video games are expected to become very useful for NRO’s cause.

There is a need for NRO to improve data collection technologies because the agency has apparently remained focused on “fairly well known and defined targets” when the modern situation has already shifted to “diverse, highly dynamic set of targets with spatial, spectral and temporal variations having ill-defined characteristics.” These days, the National Reconnaissance Office has to contend with ever-changing targets that are notably more difficult to locate and track.

To achieve its goal of harnessing video game technology in intelligence data gathering and management, NRO has come up with the “Director’s Innovation Initiative,” which consists of various projects that are expected to take a maximum of 9 months, costing up to $450,000. All these are expected to lead to a new data gathering and management technology for NRO, which would enhance reliability and provide a less vulnerable technology for the agency.

How Video Gaming Technology Can Be Helpful

At present, video gaming technology has already achieved new heights in terms of rendering details, showing realistic physics, and pitting players against less predictable and more powerful artificial intelligence. Video games, especially console-based and computer-based (laptop and desktop) ones, nowadays already make use of new sensors that enhance the gaming experience. The XBox and PlayStation, for instance, employ cameras to create new gaming interactions. These cameras come with powerful algorithms that detect faces and track movements to serve as new gameplay variables or control inputs..

NRO is mostly interested on the data collection and imaging aspects of video gaming technology. The way video gaming software handle vast amounts of data to enable smooth-flowing and realistic game scenarios can be harnessed to facilitate faster, more reliable, and more dynamic data gathering and the identification and interpretation of visual information. Likewise, the way video games enable the rendering of custom imagery (generating detailed maps or terrains for example) can be very useful in using the data gathered by spy satellites.

By drrfqq (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By drrfqq (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The impressive upgrades in both the hardware and software used in video games are responsible for the significant advancement in video gaming technology. Modern gaming computers or consoles are now equipped with processing units, graphics processors, sensors, and input methods that are multiple times better than their predecessors. Their software have also become highly advanced that they are even able to perform facial recognition with a level of accuracy comparable to that of professional solutions used in law enforcement.

Over the years, video gaming developers have strived to make games look more eye-pleasing, more interactive, more detailed, and more responsive. These have resulted to upgrades that emphasize more dynamic and faster data processing as well as more accurate visuals. These are some of the highly important things intelligence gathering technologies have not explored more thoroughly as they focused on traditional approaches.Let’s just hope gaming technologies will not be used by the government to violate privacy rights and to stage unwarranted attacks against innocent civilians.