Top secret spy tech

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There are only three words that come to mind when you think of spy gadgets: ‘Bond, James Bond’. For almost 50 years, the fictional MI6 agent has wowed cinemagoers fighting evil villains with an arsenal of new-fangled gizmos – all for queen and country.

When 007 debuted in 1962’s Dr No, real-life spies were caught up in the Cold War. From 1946 to 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union were arch-rivals. Although they never fought directly, both powers were constantly prepared for nuclear war. To gain the upper hand, they felt they needed to know what the other was up to and what their military was capable of. Secret agents working for the CIA and KGB would intercept messages, crack codes and infiltrate numerous organisations to uncover each other’s state secrets. From hi-tech surveillance to secret weapons, some of the gadgets these spies carried could even give the fictional Q Branch a run for its money.

Today, some of the Bond films’ most extraordinary inventions are everyday essentials, or even feel a bit old hat – the car phone in From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever’s fingerprint scanner, a watch that can receive messages and calls from For Your Eyes Only.  No doubt Tesla owners think of Pierce Brosnan’s remotely controlled BMW every time they summon their car with a tap on an app. Dubai firefighters now use Thunderball-style jetpacks. A German firm even makes Skyfall-style pistols that are coded to a particular user. We’re still waiting for an alligator-shaped personal submarine, though.

If you and I can carry pocket-sized computers with built-in cameras and access to satellite navigation, it’s no surprise that today’s spies have upgraded their gadgets, too. Adapting to the digital age, spycraft is now state of the art, embracing AI, quantum physics and more…

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 131, written by Jack Parsons 

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