DARPA a year later

July 21st, 2010 by Erwin Gianchandani Post a comment »

Dr. Ken Gabriel, the deputy director of DARPA, delivered a plenary address at CRA’s biannual Snowbird Conference on Monday morning — one day short of the one-year anniversary of the arrival of DARPA’s new leadership, including new DARPA director Dr. Regina Dugan. Gabriel spoke about DARPA’s incredible transformation over the past 12 months, including its renewed commitment to academic research.

Specifically, Gabriel started by highlighting five key changes that have occurred at DARPA in the past year:

- “Go/no-go” is gone.

- Contracting has been simplified. The process is as clear, simple, and fast as the law allows.

- More realistic conflict of interest rules have been applied to people coming to work at DARPA.

- Program managers are once again managing programs.

- Program managers have been reeducated about the need to consider basic research as a critical element of their programs.

He further reeled off three directions moving forward:

- Manufacturing. “One of the biggest challenges we face as a nation is a decline in our ability to make things,” he said. “Americans consume more goods today than ever before – and yet we are less likely to be employed in manufacturing than we have been at any time in the past 100 years. [But] to innovate, we must make. It’s hard to build and field systems needed to protect the nation with a service economy.” Gabriel stated that DARPA is identifying and building on the fundamental challenges in making things.

- Edge-finding. “We often talk of globalization as boundless,” he said. “But sociologists will tell you that as long as there are humans involved there are boundaries. In the cyberworld, our inability to define the edges is a world of peril. This is one of the most technically challenging tasks of our time.” Gabriel challenged us to understand the following: What are the edges of truth in this environment? How do we assess them? How are they relevant?

- Cyber. “In 2010 and 2011, DARPA will invest over $300M in cyber-enabled initiatives,” Gabriel advised. “DARPA-developed technologies are already prevalent in both government and commercial venues. For example, DARPA technology protects DARPA servers again denial-of-service attacks.” DARPA is pursuing several new initiatives, including clean-slate technology on adaptive posts for resilience; safer computing that seeks to create assured confrontations on un-trusted hardware without the traditional performance sacrifices; etc.

Finally, Gabriel called on the computing research community to help by getting to work:

So today, I’d like to call you to action. [It’s] a call to return to the core values of the agency. A call to service. And a call to collectively reach for something bigger – more expansive – and more enduring. This is the time to dig deep and go to the edge – to find the nerve together.

At DARPA, we say you can’t lose your nerve.

The deputy director’s talk underscores the dramatic evolution of DARPA that we have witnessed in just the past year.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)