In 1945, an article by Vannevar Bush was published in The Atlantic Monthly detailing a hypothetical device which would store and automatically cross-reference a user’s books, personal records, and other types of written information. The author was working as director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during WWII, and had effectively predicted the way humans would one day record and find information. In short, he had imagined a type of internet, and he called it The Memex — a combination of “memory” and “index”. 

Memex exists today, but not quite how Mr. Bush imagined it. Instead, it’s an advanced suite of software developed by DARPA, which is essentially the modern day version of the same U.S. government department that Vannevar Bush was the director of when he imagined his own Memex. 

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is a part of the defense department put into place after the second world war. When Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, the U.S. was taken by surprise by their advanced technology — and not in a good way. DARPA was born out of the belief that we should never be technologically surprised, and instead should work proactively to stay on top of and create the most advanced technology we’re able to create. 

While DARPA of course focuses on tech that will help and protect our country, it’s also given birth to a lot of the day-to-day tech most Americans have come to rely on. Some examples include GPS, voice recognition, and advancements in the way we use the internet. 

DARPA was not only created to build and understand tech, but also to set it free into the world so that more users are able to evolve the tech into something usable and beneficial to many. Wade Shen, Program Manager for DARPA, contributed to the 2017 Civic Hacker Summit with an explaination of how DARPA developed Memex as a tool for finding, analyzing, and storing data related to the worldwide epidemic of human trafficking, as well as how those tools are now open source to optimize their existence.

It is estimated that there are roughly 10 to 30 million victims of human trafficking globally, with the main motivation of trafficking being either sex slavery or forced labor. These numbers are staggering, and with the huge financial drive behind trafficking, they are not dwindling. In 2016, human trafficking in the U.S. rose 35.7 percent from the previous year according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

One reason why human traffickers are able to operate efficiently under the radar is because of the dark web which uses evasive tactics to remain outside of the mainstream internet. Ironically, the internet is also the greatest tool we have in fighting traffickers. Until now, law enforcement and organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking have had to manually comb through web-based leads to hunt down and legally prosecute suspected traffickers. This type of data collection is time-consuming and can be frustrating for already strained investigative departments.

DARPA decided to target two specific problem areas in trafficking data collection by creating software that could automate this process and lead to faster take-downs of traffickers while restoring freedom to the victims of human trafficking. First, they wanted to help investigators find all the information they need to find evidence of trafficking activity with identifiers they could subpoena. Secondly, they wanted to help investigators find the leads automatically using AI and machine learning tools. In order to accomplish all of this, they needed Memex.

In his interview, Wade Shen goes into fascinating detail on what Memex is and how it is being used to find and bring down traffickers faster and more efficiently than ever. Memex is a suite of software that is now available as open source tools, as well as smaller components which can be used by additional users to create new mashups and applications to support the effort toward ending human trafficking.

Wade’s talk is not one to miss. Gain access to the full Civic Hacker Network archive to learn more about his important work on Memex with DARPA.

Combatting Human Trafficking with Powerful Data Tools

Wade Shen, Program Manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), details the creation and use of Memex, the most advanced automated data collection software ever built to find and take down human traffickers. You can see Wade’s full interview when you gain access to the Civic Hacker Network archives.

Watch the Full Interview