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What DARPA's Been Up To, At Length

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the one-long-list-of-credits dept.

Books 54

The New York Times takes an inside look at DARPA, the secretive defense agency, mentioned frequently on Slashdot, that is "changing the way we use machines — and the way they use us" in the form of a review of Michael Belfiore's The Department of Mad Scientists. Besides tracing the history of the agency, Belfiore's book expounds on the well-known Grand Challenge and its link to ever-more-automated vehicle control in civilian and military contexts, as well as other DARPA pet projects, including robotic surgery, information analysis, and the integration of electronics with the human body.

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Darp (0, Offtopic)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562686)

Darp darp.

The truth (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30562698)

Darpa is an old boys network that funds tons of projects by the program managers friends. I worked on a robot project for a couple of years and it was depressing. They ask you to do something impossible, but something that sounds cool. Then they don't care if it doesn't work - the right money has exchanged hands.

Sure they have done some good things, but that was a long time ago. What my complaint is mainly about is the low level of science, and the sleazy way they distribute their money.

Re:The truth (0, Offtopic)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562762)

Don't attach your comment to the first post if it's not related. It's slightly annoying, the mods are wise to it, and the comment system won't keep your comment at the top of the page if the FP gets modded down.

(Offtopic, so posting without my bonus).

Re:The truth (0, Offtopic)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562786)

Chill out. The fp was junk.

Re:The truth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30562812)

No, bcmm is spot on. Plus why is that useless FP modded interesting.

Re:The truth (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562814)

Meh, dont be pissed because your lame joke isnt at the top. Strogg, really? PPFFTTT, plenty of much more laughable references.

Re:The truth (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562764)

So, Professor Frink is a DARPA inventor.

Re:The truth (5, Insightful)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562826)

Science isn't about doing something and getting the expected results. Science is about doing something and when reviewing the results going 'Well that's odd. Guys come here and look at this.' And then discovering something new.

Re:The truth (1, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563016)

Science isn't about doing something and getting the expected results. Science is about doing something and when reviewing the results going 'Well that's odd. Guys come here and look at this.' And then discovering something new.

DARPA is military research, whose point is about doing something and getting the expected results.
If you want science, go get funding from the National Science Foundation.

Re:The truth (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563542)

It's often times easier to get funding from DARPA as there's a lot of idiots that refuse to pay for research that's practical for everyday use, but tons that are willing to pay for technology that blows shit up. Or is in some other way useful for destroying the world.

Which is really why the NSF should be given a reliably large sum of money each year and told to just make the best use of it.

nsf v darpa (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30567042)

your forgetting the religious lobby, nsf research tends to support inconvenient truths such as evolution directly or indirectly (such as genetic based research); whereas money spent on darpa will likely result in people of competing faiths being reduced in number.

U.S. government corruption (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30564032)

U.S. government: Any amount of taxpayer money for killing people and destroying property. Why? Partly because it is easy to hide who is getting the money.

You're wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30567180)

In one sentence you say:

DARPA is military research

,

Which is true; the charter for the organization is indeed to do advanced research to support the needs of the US Department of Defense. But then you go on to say

whose point is about doing something and getting the expected results.

This is not correct. Doing something for the purpose of getting the expected results is engineering, not science. DARPA was not founded as an engineering agency, it was founded to do research into things - often with the goal of addressing immediate practical concerns, though certainly not always or only.

If anything, your understanding of what the agency ought to do is what really screwed up DARPA under the previous director. His focus on meeting goals and GNG targets severely curtailed the willingness of participants in programs to pursue more "out there" approaches to problems - which is in fact a hindrance to basic research, as well as ultimately detrimental to the overall research goal.

Re:The truth (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30564512)

Tell that to the “dark energy” crowd. They are all about getting the expected results. Because they went “Well that‘s wrong. Guys come here and let’s invent some voodoo stuff, because our theory can’s possibly be wrong“. ^^

Protip: Nature is always right. By definition.

Re:The truth (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30569060)

What are you talking about? "Dark energy" is just a broad term describing something that influences the Universe in a particular way. It's a placeholder after discovering something new (accelerating expansion) and awaiting for adequate explanation.

Re:The truth (1)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30565492)

Correct.

Engineering is about doing something and getting the expected results.

Science is about giving the engineers something new to play with.

Re:The truth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30565942)

Engineering is precisely about doing something to get to the expected results. And DARPA is all about engineering, not science.

Re:The truth (2, Insightful)

samkass (174571) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563020)

The only firm "deliverables" (CDRLs in contract-speak) in most DARPA contracts are status reports and a final writeup. If you get something that actually works it's a major bonus for future contract work, of course, but doesn't affect your DARPA money. That's why it's called "Research" and not "Development". Sometimes trying for something impossible turns up some interesting discoveries. Sometimes not.

Re:The actual truth (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563310)

Depends on where your contract with DARPA is. Sure, the robotics stuff at DARPA is about 1% as interesting as what's going on at the MITML, unless you're really into marrying robot brains together with cascading LISP in P2P modalities... which of course leads to exactly what you'd expect-- a bunch of stoned, lazy robots all bumping into each other, mirroring their designers' memetic template perfectly.

And then there are the rockstars of DARPA initiatives, like Lincoln Labs, who appear to be interested in marrying scruffy neural networks with the flight control and combat systems on modern war planes. And there are hundreds of things in between, such as the science and methodology of evacuating megalopolises in coastal regions, which while amounting to ultimately nothing more than the biggest makefile in the world, are still mostly very interesting.

DARPA is like any other shadowing government organization which operates outside the law: Some people are working on irrelevant, boring crap. Some people are working on earth shattering mega theories. But most are somewhere in the middle, trying to pay their kid's medical insurance while at the same time trying to do something that interests them. Money get's thrown around DARPA projects based almost completely on who's doing the throwing, and it's never the same person. Sure there's an ugly side to DARPA funding... but as you should know perfectly well if you've been the recipient of any sort of funding, public or private, there's *always* an ugly side to it.

Re:The truth (4, Insightful)

mikewas (119762) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563606)

You're missing the point. DARPA is about reaching a long-term goal -- one which isn't achievable with existing science/engineering. DARPA contracts are short term contracts whose goal is to determine why one small step towards the ultimate goal is not achievable. This is followed by another contract that determines how to facilitate the previous step ... or to determine how that is blocked. And it keeps on going!

Eventually there is success, and the success flows back to the first step ... except now you are asked to go just a bit farther to discover what the next block is.

The PM's job is to keep an eye on the overall goal & to act as a champion for the program. And, although they are generally experienced technical managers, PM's don't remain at DARPA for a long time, it's just too intense.

If you understand what is going on, and DARPA contracts are great to work on, encouraging freedom & creativity, and you'll probably get more contracts. If not then you'll end up frustrated, somebody else will have to dig through your CDRLs to get the needed data, and the followup contract will end up going to somebody who understands the process.

Re:The truth (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563710)

DARPAs point is to fund things that are going to fail. If every project succeeds, then DARPA is failing at its mission.

Perhaps the fact that you didn't understand that was part of the problem on your project?

Re:The truth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30564170)

They ask you to do something impossible, but something that sounds cool. Then they don't care if it doesn't work

They're trying to push the envelope, when doing that, you're going to fail most of the time. It's a gamble, DARPA doesn't care if any given project works, because they don't put much money into it. BTW, they consider a few million to not be much money. Given the type of people that work on DARPA projects, you're talking about 500K per year for a single person [not salary, but cost to the government].

Re:The truth (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30564712)

Sorry but DARPA program managers have a tenure of 3 years. It's not possible to create an 'old boys network' in such an environment. DARPA will not fund a project unless there is some reasonable possibility of success. If a program goes forward and proves that something is not possible, they are just as happy with that result. Information is gained either way. (Posted anonymously for obvious reasons.)

Robitic surgeons? (0, Troll)

bcmm (768152) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562704)

Robotic surgeons integrating electronics with the human body?

DARPA is run by the Strogg!

Re:Robitic surgeons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563360)

Humour is forbidden in /. between Christmas and the New Year. The strogg need to finish their turkey before laughing out loud with that special metallic overtone.

Two words: (1)

drej (1663541) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562842)

Metal Gear.

Re:Two words: (1)

NoobixCube (1133473) | more than 4 years ago | (#30565462)

The first time I'd ever heard of DARPA was when I played Metal Gear Solid. Ever since then, I've always had the ideas of DARPA and Metal Gear irrevocably tied together in my mind. They'd better hurry up on that Metal Gear too, because Japan's military research have a Gundam project going on! Granted, right now it has a more ungainly shuffle than that damn deceptively marketed Robo Raptor (I bought one of those... I felt so cheated), but you never know; some genius may step in and accelerate the project... To compare the two though, Metal Gear Rex is a far more realistic prospect with today's technology than any model of Gundam is, so technically, DARPA would still have a head start.

The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (4, Interesting)

philgross (23409) | more than 4 years ago | (#30562866)

No mention of the disastrous Bush-era reign of Tony Tether [wikipedia.org] at DARPA? With an incurious, aggressive president, we got an incurious, aggressive DARPA head, who cut long-term and academic research in favor of short-term corporate research. His dumping by Obama led to joy and celebrations [chronicle.com] (OK, cautious hope) across the land.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (1)

general_re (8883) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563130)

"+5, reinforces my pre-existing worldview"

So, people who want DARPA money think it's a good idea when they get it, and a bad idea when someone else gets it. Can we get an assessment from someone who isn't so obviously vested in the outcome of DARPA's budget?

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563196)

How did this not get moderated Troll? Did you even read TFA? Much of the amazing technology discussed in it was developed during the Bush administration.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (2, Interesting)

philgross (23409) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563250)

Read the TFA. There would have been unimaginably more cool stuff if Tether hadn't choked off academic funding for anything not directly usable in the current wars. DARPANet/ARPANet/the Internet definitely is not something that could have happened on his watch.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563372)

Stand clear on this; the internet took roughly 20 years from the time of ARPANet to the time of public access. This didn't happen under any individuals watch. It probably could never have happened under one persons watch. Your point is that you don't have a point since what you're hypothesizing never happened in the first place.

But damn the facts, you'll still get modded up by a bunch of Bush bashers who can't see past the tips of their noses.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (1)

philgross (23409) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563456)

Long term, heavy-academic-contribution stuff was exactly what he choked off. He was bad for America's research base and bad for big-picture American security, IMHO. Apologies for the gratuitous Dubya swipe (as you say, mod-bait on /.), but I do feel that Tether and GWB shared a disdain for academia, which was no problem for the president, but had terrible consequences for what is supposed to be the blue-sky research arm of the DoD.

Also, you're aware that this not some hindsight Bush-bashing here, right? I mean, they actually had Senate hearings on the Tether/DARPA mess back in 2005 [cra.org] .

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563650)

The link you provide doesn't support your claim. As I read it everyone was complaining that budget cuts at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was forcing them to fund, ah, defense oriented projects. What a scandal.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563744)

I'd rather see funding go to a project for people that have been languishing for decades: upper extremity amputees have all but been ignored by the prosthetics manufacturers because they are such a small segment of the amputee populace. Extraordinary progress has been made in leg technology just since the 80's, but most arm users have been stuck with a device ( the cable operated elbow and split hook )that hasn't fundamentally changed since the Civil War. Sure, there have been incremental moves forward over the long years, but most of them didn't amount to much ( anyone remember the Boston Arm from 1969? ), meanwhile progress remains glacial.

I'm not holding my breath - there have been numerous announcements of breakthroughs before, and revolutionary prototypes that disappeared without a trace. Making a human-compatible arm is hard in ways that make some problems seem trivial in comparison. At least some attention is being paid, and a lot of good work is being done.

It's been needed for 60 years, so does that count as long term for you, or is it not 'academic' enough?

During that "disasterous" period... (1)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563836)

During that "disasterous" period, DARPA made progress on the "Proto 1" and "Proto 2" cyborg arms, and the military (not sure if DARPA specifically) funded Bussard's "Polywell" fusion project.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (1, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30564166)

With an incurious, aggressive president, we got an incurious, aggressive DARPA head, who cut long-term and academic research in favor of short-term corporate research.

I agree as long as we make the translation, "long-term and academic research" == useless research and "short-term research" == useful research. It's worth noting that Anthony Tether headed DARPA over the period when DARPA became popular on Slashdot due to its much cooler projects. To be blunt, for all the talk of the value of academic research, it really isn't that useful or interesting. I'm sure academics are overjoyed to be able to hog the public fund trough again, but that doesn't mean that they deserve the money or that it's a better use than the impressive projects of the Bush era.

Reading on, you cite the ARPAnet as an example of a long-term project. The problem is that the project was short-term. Government needed a network that could survive a nuclear blast. They got that within a few years. They didn't have any interest in the rest of the stuff that went on the network. It was a short-term project with long-term benefits that just happened to use academia as the means rather than businesses. We can't use it to claim that funding long-term/academic research is something that DARPA should be doing.

Tether did a good job (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#30564226)

Tony Tether (whom I've met) did a reasonably good job with DARPA. Especially in robotics. He was behind the DARPA Grand Challenge, which was done partly to give academic robotics departments a serious butt-kick. Academic robotics had been funded by DARPA for decades, but nothing fieldable was coming out. The reason that major universities devoted entire departments to the Grand Challenge was that DARPA had told them quietly that if they didn't do well, their funding was going away. Prior to the Grand Challenge, a typical academic robotics project was one professor and a few grad students producing a thesis on an obscure topic. Universities weren't organized to do system integration and make all the subsystems play together. Now they are.

It was time to cut back on Government-funded R&D in computer science, because it's a mature technology. DARPA shouldn't be funding "high performance graphics" - industry, Hollywood, and the game industry are doing that just fine. Networking is in good shape. DARPA hasn't been influential in operating systems since the 1980s. DARPA never had much of a role in personal computing at all.

DARPA isn't the NSF. Their job is to develop technology DoD can use.

Re:The suckitude that was DARPA head Tony Tether (0, Flamebait)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 4 years ago | (#30564682)

Yeah, Bush was famous for putting people with no real subject relevant experience in control of agencies like DARPA, NASA and any other science endeavors.

The whole motive of the Bush administration was two fold, loot the middle class and employ nepotism as far and widely as possible.

Science and ethics (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563012)

The interesting bit in the article is about modern-day Cybrogs and how we and machines are getting integrated. Of course the article is designed to startle - after all people will read it only if it challenges them. But should we really be scared?

It is not really any more alarming then "machines that can actually create cloth" were in the early 19th century. That too was a ceding of a human ability to machine enhancement.

We need to realize that we always were part machine - albeit chemical and biological ones, rather than electrical and metal ones.

So what makes us human? Certainly not emotion, that is easy to simulate. Perhaps it is free will, social intelligence and an inquisitive inventive mind ? Perhaps it is the combination of all this in a single package: we are multi-purpose, FLEXIBLE, animals.

And what if a machine can be built that would do all that, and would be just as multi-purpose? Intellectually that would simply prove our own nature: multi-purpose flexible machines is what we are. Politically it would be something we can legislate against if we dislike it: after all we already have humans; why build a "mark II" if we like "mark I" ?

Our humanity is in danger from only one thing: laziness. If, due to our own laziness we give away our free will, social intelligence and inquisitive inventive mind - then we are in trouble.

That would happen if we allow educational standards to keep slipping. It certainly could happen, but its up to us.

Why post anonymous? (1)

gbutler69 (910166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563560)

Very insiteful. I really like the last bit:

Our humanity is in danger from only one thing: laziness. If, due to our own laziness we give away our free will, social intelligence and inquisitive inventive mind - then we are in trouble. That would happen if we allow educational standards to keep slipping. It certainly could happen, but its up to us.

That didn't look right, had to verify... (1)

gbutler69 (910166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563590)

Very insightful...

There, fixed it for myself.

Being human, being cyborgs (1, Redundant)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563034)

The interesting bit in the article is about modern-day Cybrogs and how we and machines are getting integrated. Of course the article is designed to startle - after all people will read it only if it challenges them. But should we really be scared?

It is not really any more alarming then "machines that can actually create cloth" were in the early 19th century. That too was a ceding of a human ability to machine enhancement.

We need to realize that we always were part machine - albeit chemical and biological ones, rather than electrical and metal ones.

So what makes us human? Certainly not emotion, that is easy to simulate. Perhaps it is free will, social intelligence and an inquisitive inventive mind ? Perhaps it is the combination of all this in a single package: we are multi-purpose, FLEXIBLE, animals.

And what if a machine can be built that would do all that, and would be just as multi-purpose? Intellectually that would simply prove our own nature: multi-purpose flexible machines is what we are. Politically it would be something we can legislate against if we dislike it: after all we already have humans; why build a "mark II" if we like "mark I" ?

Our humanity is in danger from only one thing: laziness. If, due to our own laziness we give away our free will, social intelligence and inquisitive inventive mind - then we are in trouble.

That would happen if we allow educational standards to keep slipping. It certainly could happen, but its up to us.

Re:Being human, being cyborgs (1)

novar21 (1694492) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563132)

I am not sure educational standards have an effect on laziness. Laziness is not assigning priority to socially acceptable norms and actions. Attitudes and social engineering should be the focus if we are to keep our free will. These are normally shaped and developed in our communication media such as TV, News papers, Radio.

Re:Being human, being cyborgs (2, Interesting)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563348)

Well, novar21, I see your point. But if we are dependant on TV etc then we have lost the fight without a struggle.

True fact: my family does not have a TV at our home, though we do have a DVD. The result: my children actually read books, as well as watch relatively high-quality movies.

In other words: education is not just about the educational "system". We as parents can and should take control.

Re:Being human, being cyborgs (1)

DocHoncho (1198543) | more than 4 years ago | (#30568274)

True fact: my family does not have a TV at our home, though we do have a DVD. The result: my children actually read books, as well as watch relatively high-quality movies.

So does this DVD you have beam the images from these relatively high-quality movies directly into your brain?

Re:Being human, being cyborgs (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563134)

Perhaps it is the combination of all this in a single package: we are multi-purpose, FLEXIBLE, animals.

I think it has something to do with being able to use fire, although whether that came from brain development or vice versa might be the next question. There's other social, tool-making, inquisitive animals.

Re:Being human, being cyborgs (1)

giladpn (1657217) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563366)

I wish I knew enough about how we evolved to become such flexible animals. You may be right that learning to use fire was a milestone.

Others may feel that walking upright was the critical factor; or perhaps omnivore behavior; or perhaps the development of our language skills.

I don't know; and your take may be correct. I am just saying that we ARE flexible animals, and that - however it came to be - is a big part of what makes us human.

Re:Being human, being cyborgs (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30563518)

> So what makes us human?

The laws. As long as the laws say something is human it's human :).

> Perhaps it is free will,

This is very important too, from a strategic POV.

It is dangerous for humans to say stuff like:
1) It's not my fault, I have no choice - I'm born like that.
2) We have no free will
3) We are just machines

Because defective machines can be discarded a lot more easily than defective humans. So even if 1-3 are true, a wise human might want to maintain the illusion that they are special ;).

Anyway, to me the direction to go is to not replace humans but to augment them. There is a subtle yet significant difference between the approaches.

With one approach you'd have more and more independent autonomous AIs in charge of stuff. With another approach, the focus is for the humans to be able to do more and more (and still be responsible for what they do). Yes there'll still be automation, but the focus is different.

I don't see a great technical need for nonhuman intelligences - we already have plenty - they're in pet shops and farms. We're not doing such a great job with them as is, so it would be rather irresponsible to try to create a real AI at this point in time.

I, for one, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563114)

welcome our new overlords.

Dear DARPA - Find a way to scan and stop terrorist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30563942)

Dear DARPA -
        Stop your exotic experimental stuff and do something about scanning and preventing explosives getting on board airplanes.
Find a way to do this without eroding the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Your dollars will be well spent on this rather than
some mambo jumbo stuff.

Re:Dear DARPA - Find a way to scan and stop terror (2, Interesting)

SteveAstro (209000) | more than 4 years ago | (#30564000)

I think the tech we DO have was funded by DARPA at some point in the development of quite a bit of it. And how WITHOUT "exotic experimental stuff" will we find something that can ?

Speaking of DHARMA when is LOST coming back ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30564266)

I wantsz to noze !!

Buck

skynet (1)

kdemetter (965669) | more than 4 years ago | (#30564778)

ah well , about time they started with skynet. The world is supposed to be in ashes by 2018 , so they better hurry.

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