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October 01, 2003

A Glimpse of DARPA

I realize that for the larger public DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has become a sort of synonym with the Information Awareness program that Pointdexter ran. We have seen lots of negative publicity around that particular program, which is now shut down, and not so long ago I felt I needed to come to DARPA's rescue when ignorance seemed to rise to the top. Maybe the more history-of-technology aware person knows about the agency and the origin of the Internet, but in general that is where it stops.

To educate those of you who do not know much about DARPA's day-to-day functioning I will try to give you a glimpse into its kitchen by taking you on an excursion through how one applies for research funding through a DARPA program. There is a new program starting that Ken, Robbert and I will jointly apply to, and in the coming weeks I will show you the steps we  go through in getting the proposal ready.

It all officially starts when DARPA releases a BAA, a Broad Agency Announcement, which contains the details of a research direction one of the agencies offices is interested in pursuing. Some program are high-level and broad, or looking very far ahead, and some are very detailed and focused. There are many programs that have nothing to do with computer hardware or software.

The BAA that was announced this week is called Self-Regenerative Systems (SRS) and here is the official  Synopsis.  If you are not used to these kinds of announcements, you will get utterly confused by this document. There are two interesting sections, the first one Program Objectives and Description gives you information about the technical challenges this program is trying to address, and the section on Test and Evaluation describes how the results of the research will be made public and what kind of public integration or demonstrations are targeted. The rest of the text is also important, but is more of an administrative nature.

The important sentence in the Objectives is

Among other things, new fourth generation technologies will draw on biological metaphors such as natural diversity and immune systems to achieve robustness and adaptability, the structure of organisms and ecosystems to achieve scalability, and human cognitive attributes (reasoning, learning and introspection) to achieve the capacity to predict, diagnose, heal and improve the ability to provide service.

In the coming week I will dissect this synopsis for you and show you what this particular program is trying to address. And of course how my group will propose research that is relevant in this context.

Posted by Werner Vogels at October 1, 2003 07:45 PM