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[P]
DARPA and the US culture of high technology

By demi in Culture
Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 11:59:30 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

Sometime in the middle of the 20th century, against the backdrop of World War II, a new type of weapon emerged simultaneously in several parts of the world, whose initial purpose was to improve the armed forces of its parent nation, but was subsequently enlisted to keep fighting long after all of the treaties were signed. That weapon was the modern strategic research and development (R&D) laboratory. In the US, the role of strategic research in the military as well as in the private sector has been influenced greatly by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


The purpose of this article is to give the reader an overview of the role of DARPA in the high-technology culture of the US, and a perspective on how our government subsidizes far-out high risk projects that are later transitioned to private industry. Full disclosure: I am a researcher whose fellowship is paid for by grants from DARPA.

High-tech entrepreneurs and scientists: America needs your help! Do you have an idea that would help U.S. Military Special Operation Forces? Participate in the most important annual conference of the post 9-11 era, the "Scientists Helping America" Conference.

DARPA/ARPA was created in response to the 1957 launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik. Since its inception in 1958 it has consumed more than $55 billion of US taxpayers' money. Its mission is "for the direction or performance of such advanced projects in the field of research and development as the Secretary of Defense shall, from time to time, designate by individual project or by category." To get an idea of what projects have been sponsored wholly or partially by DARPA money, here are some taken from a 1997 report:

  • M-16 assault rifle
  • Saturn V launch vehicle
  • X-29 and X-31 jet aircraft
  • CO2 laser-based ABM technology (or infamously known as 'Star Wars')
  • Remotely-piloted reconnaisance drone aircraft
  • NOAA weather forecasting satellites

What might be more interesting is to look at some of the information technologies (IT) that were developed under DARPA programs using taxpayer funds, and then spun off into private businesses or components of private ventures.

  • Integrated circuit (IC) microelectronics for missile guidance systems
  • ARPANET/DARPANET/MILNET (precursor of the Internet)
  • Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)
  • Redundant Array of Inexpensive Devices (RAID)
  • Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC)
  • Massively Parallel Computing (MPC)
  • Virtual memory Unix and Mach: standardization of Unix and Mach across many architectures
  • Silicon Graphics Incorporated: founded to commercialize the DARPA-funded Geometry Engine Project at Stanford
  • Sun Microsystems: created to market a VLSI project from Stanford and a Unix project from Berkeley. Both projects were funded by DARPA
  • Cisco Systems: founded to commercialize DARPA-developed packet switching technology
These are examples of high-technology projects, funded partially or wholly by DARPA with taxpayer money, that have been used outside of the military sphere to create manufacturing and research infrastructure. It's called corporate welfare by some, and strategic research by others. No matter what your viewpoint, the close coupling of basic research (usually DARPA-funded adademic institutions) with technical development (small start-up type businesses or large corporations) has been extremely beneficial to the US economy within the last 10 years by having in place a strong IT and IC-related infrastructure. It's something that Japan was widely criticized for by the US during the 1980's for subsidization of industry through the MITI (now METI, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry).

Let's say that you are a bright young person with some useful ideas and a lot of ambition. How can you get some help from the government to realize your dreams? Well, in addition to many other government agencies that offer loans and grants, DARPA has Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants which are provided to start-ups whose research may be parallel with defense project interests. Also, there is the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program designed to transition your academic research to a production environment where it may be commercialized.

So the mission of DARPA and its constituent specialty divisions (ATO, DSO, MTO, etc.) can now be re-visualized as a kind of government-subsidized venture capital firm, actively funding and developing some very unconventional and unrealistic sounding projects, which might seem completely useless and infeasible to all but the most die-hard geeks and fans of science fiction and anime. For example:

To be fair, there are lots of other much more conventional projects that DARPA funds as well.

As the saying goes, there's your tax dollar at work. Maybe some of these technologies will see the light of day, but the majority won't. Whether you like it or not, if you pay taxes in the US you are funding the development of these technologies, and possibly creating the infrastructure for an industry whose importance we cannot yet appreciate. Although we tend to sharply criticize directly subsidized industrial development in other countries, the US has its own strategic research element, and it's not buried underground in Area 51. It's a persistent culture of technophiles and opportunists, who see vague possibilities where others see futility, helped out by the very deep pockets of Uncle Sam.

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Poll
Government funded strategic research and development is:
o Unfair competition. 2%
o In the best interests of the taxpayers. 43%
o The way things are headed in this age of increasing centralization. 7%
o Very complicated. 15%
o Holy fscking Gundam Wing! Sign me up! 30%

Votes: 39
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o DARPA
o Scientists Helping America
o DARPA/ARPA
o created
o report
o Silicon Graphics Incorporated
o Sun Microsystems
o METI
o Small Business Innovation Research
o Small Business Technology Transfer
o divisions
o Augmented human cognition
o Morphing/t ransformable airframes
o Molecular electronics
o Distribute d robotics
o Exoskeleto n frames
o Brain-mach ine interfaces
o Firefox
o Also by demi


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DARPA and the US culture of high technology | 33 comments (33 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Well written (4.00 / 3) (#1)
by onyxruby on Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 10:03:29 PM EST

I don't entirely agree with some of your conclusions, but this appears to be well researched with numerous examples to support your position. Well written, +1 FP. One way to look at the ROI (Return on Investment) would be to look at some of the companys that have come as an offshoot of DARPA and see what their financial contribution to the economy has been over the years. Add this to things like GPS satellite navigations' impact on the shipping industry alone and I think you would see that DARPA has returned more than it has cost, but I am certainly no economist.

Few more DARPA accomplishments off the top of my head.

  • GPS
  • Internet
  • Ceramics advancements
  • Metallurgy advancements
  • Phased array radar
  • Helicopters without tail rotors
  • SR-71 Blackbird (through Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks)

    The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.

  • The cost-benefit analysis. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by demi on Wed Jan 23, 2002 at 10:26:43 PM EST

    The total 'investment' in all DARPA-related projects to date is ~$55B (in figures not adjusted for inflation), whereas IT contributes several hundreds of billions of dollars to the GDP every year. You could buy a lot of $400 hammers with that kind of dough. Makes it kind of tough for the smaller, poorer, less advanced countries to ever catch up though.



    [ Parent ]

    Catch up (none / 0) (#22)
    by A Trickster Imp on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 11:02:16 AM EST

    > Makes it kind of tough for the smaller, poorer,
    > less advanced countries to ever catch up though.

    All that much more evidence about domestic socialistic nonsense about building local companies. Open your borders instead, poor countries.





    [ Parent ]
    why +1 (2.00 / 2) (#3)
    by turmeric on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 12:00:46 AM EST

    its got alotta info. it shows how the system works. it is a really good overview of what the agency is and what it does. personally i hate the agency and the system, but its still a good article.

    Another perspective (4.75 / 4) (#4)
    by baka_boy on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 03:33:46 AM EST

    I work for a non-profit research group that is primarily supported by DARPA project funding. It's an interesting scenario, especially for a committed social liberal such as myself: my colleagues work very, very hard to find funding from DARPA, the National Science Foundation, and even the NSA, for their basic computer science research. The advantage is that, in the better projects, they are more or less left free to innovate, regardless of immediate commercial applications of their work. The downside, of course, is that we deal with the complications of trying to justify pure research in a paranoid, defense-focused environment.

    My position is somewhat unique: I work primarily on website administration, building releases of our research tools, and general support and lightweight automation. Translated into English, rather than marketron, that means I'm a code grunt. I take care of all the stuff that's not worth writing papers about; I'm also one of the few technical staff to not hold at least a master's degree, and the only person at my office under the age of 25 who doesn't answer the phones.

    I've helped to submit proposals, gone to DARPA-organized conferences, and sat in on countless planning meetings, and my current feeling is that DARPA is a titan looking for a cause. 9/11 impacted the short-term goals and outlook of project managers at DARPA to such an extent that entire research initiatives have been re-tasked with finding solutions to problems of national security and terrorism, instead of the core technology they were developing previously.

    Of course, there's an ample supply of big-business capitalism, even in the government-funded research environment. Most major DARPA projects there days have one or more "OEP" (Original Experimentation Platform) providers -- big defense contractors like Boeing or Lockheed who basically farm out the hard problems of their pre-existing, nine-figure defense contractors to academic and non-profit research groups, who in exchange receive support for continued funds from DARPA and other government programs.

    Really, it's like any other kind of work within a big system: there are those who learn to go where the money is, those who can survive on genius alone, and the lucky few who end up in the right place at the right time.



    Interesting information. (4.33 / 6) (#5)
    by Inoshiro on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 04:07:32 AM EST

    "It's called corporate welfare by some, and strategic research by others." I'd wager that those who call it corporate welfare failed or didn't take economics. Investing in these technology may have cost today's dollars, but for each dollar spent, many more have "come back." Spending money on productive research has better gains than spending money on 401k/RRSPs in pretty much every country I can think of :)

    It's rather like trade in that everyone benefits (it's not a zero sum game where one side loses and one side wins). The people who research things don't waste their talents on other work which is required to pay money, and the society which sponsors it gains back new technologies which lower the production costs of their industries in the very long terms (allowing a partial production advantage in various sectors, which can be traded with other countries for other goods).



    --
    [ イノシロ ]
    It can be corporate welfare (4.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Paul Johnson on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 10:29:04 AM EST

    The trouble is that it is very hard to distinguish between corporate welfare and genuine research whilst the money is being spent. So just how much should be spent, and where? Its a good question with no good answers.

    Then you add in the political pork phenomenon. Politicans are as happy to see federal dollars spent on research in their area as they are to see it spent on roads. It all helps boost the local economy. So they want more. If the results are hard to quantify or predict then so much the better: nobody will call them on their bull.

    Paul.
    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]

    To whit: peer review. (4.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Inoshiro on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 05:05:25 PM EST

    This is why peer review is a good thing. You're supposed to have lots of people apply the group thinkmeat powers to ensure it isn't research on the mating habits of stoned out college roomates (which would be a clever cover for being paid to sell weed to college students).



    --
    [ イノシロ ]
    [ Parent ]
    OK for projects but not for budgets (none / 0) (#18)
    by Paul Johnson on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 05:18:35 AM EST

    Peer review is fine for individual projects, but budgeting has to be done at a higher level.

    A budget of N million will be allocated for research into, say, "cancer", "AIDS", "computer networking" or "5th generation computers". This budget will be managed by some committee of Wise Men who will then allocate it to projects, possibly via a collection of sub-committees for very large funds. At this point peer review is useful in selecting projects. But the decision to spend N million is, at best, based on the belief of some politicians that society needs more knowledge about the topic. Peer review won't help there.

    Paul.
    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]

    Rocket Reuse (2.00 / 1) (#6)
    by imrdkl on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 05:38:02 AM EST

    In a book called Mining the Sky, it's claimed that the blueprints for building the Saturn V were lost, and therefore a tremendous amount of money was wasted redesigning the shuttle rockets. I also found an article which refutes part of this claim, although it seems to miss the point a bit, to me.

    The S5 was the most powerful engine ever built, I always wondered why it wasn't reused. Wouldn't DARPA have an internal money-saving policy of this sort?

    Off the top of my head... (4.50 / 2) (#20)
    by rasilon on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 08:37:11 AM EST

    From memory, the S5 engines were the most powerful, but they were designed when you made things go faster by burning more fuel. The things are HUGE (and heavy). You could park cars inside them. The shuttle engines are not as powerful, but they are a _lot_ more efficient. They are lighter and burn less fuel for the same thrust. This means a lower fuel load for the same payload which leads to cheaper launches. I don't think the S5 engines were ever a practical proposition for the shuttle.

    [ Parent ]
    That was my remembory, too (none / 0) (#21)
    by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 10:47:45 AM EST

    When the shuttle engines were developed, they had a thrust-to-weight ratio that was well beyond any rocket engine that had come before.



    People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.
    [ Parent ]
    Two books (1.66 / 3) (#7)
    by medham on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 06:04:13 AM EST

    Manual "Roscoe" De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines and Deleuze & Guattari's Thousand Plateaus.

    Though it's true that Deleuze died in a fight with French Communist intellectual Louis Althusser (he was defenestrated after Althusser stabbed him in the neck), this book has a lot of interesting things to tell us about DARPA.

    It's pretty plain, to even the armchair epistemologist, than any science discovered via military funding will just lead to rocket-fucking white death. Dominus Blicero, the sad disappearing Orpheus--we've all seen this film before

    The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

    Not only DARPA, but NIH as well (4.71 / 7) (#8)
    by iGrrrl on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 10:06:57 AM EST

    I should start out by noting that my partner's work on an artificial nose for finding land mines was originally funded by the Office of Naval Research and by DARPA. The current version is more sensitive than a dog for detecting one of the chemicals associated with antipersonnel mines. They are currently competing for more DARPA funding to finish the device, so that it can "see the light of day."
    As the saying goes, there's your tax dollar at work. Maybe some of these technologies will see the light of day, but the majority won't.
    Part of me wants to use the metaphor of genetic evolution -- not every change is advantageous, but the ones that do increase survival live on. In a sense, you can think of DARPA projects as being similar to a very large distributed brainstorming session. When something hits, it hits big. As the author stated in a comment, the return on technology investment to the US GDP is huge in the IT sector alone.

    This happens also in the biomedical industry. We like to talk about government investment in what I think of as crunchy technology, but most people ignore the similar line in wet technology, most particularly the advances in pharmaceuticals and medicine. US drug companies rely heavily on NIH sponsored research, and their contribution to the national GDP is, shall we say, non-trivial. The US spent over 2% of its GDP on medicines (reference), and the US GDP for just fourth quarter of 2001 was 10,224.9 billion (reference). The math is not difficult.

    Money aside, in government-funded biomedical research, there are a lot of seemingly unimportant projects. These are the kinds of things that get trotted out as ridiculous wastes of government money. Let me give you an example of where one of these ridiculous lines of research paid off.

    Forty or so years ago a group of biologists were studying a particular kind of bird virus, mostly in chickens. It affected the immune systems of chickens, causing tumors primarily in an organ that mammals (such as humans) don't have. The viruses presented a number of very particular puzzles, all intellectually fascinating. However, if you'd asked the researchers how their work benefited human health, they could make some arm-waving justifications, but it really came down to, "Well, it's really cool!"

    In the 1980's it became clear that these viruses contained what are now known as oncogenes -- genes involved in serious human cancers. This opened up a whole field of medical research. Also about that time, someone got the Nobel prize for figuring out that the viruses replicated by reverse-transcribing RNA to DNA and inserting themselves into the host cell's genome. They are known as retroviruses.

    Some of you may immediately associate "retrovirus" with AIDS. So yes, without forty years of work with cool bird viruses, can you imagine where we'd be with AIDS research?

    You never know what's going to pay off.

    --
    You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
    remove apostrophe for email.

    NIH is another good example. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by demi on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 12:34:37 PM EST

    You made a number of excellent points in your post, one of which I would like to pick up on.

    US drug companies rely heavily on NIH sponsored research, and their contribution to the national GDP is, shall we say, non-trivial.

    ...to say the least. But the problem that this presents is that, as more ordinary people become aware of the benefits of having the government lay out the initial discovery costs for materials and compounds (speaking as a chemist here), they want more funding for work that will quickly be developed into commercial use, and less speculative and/or 'wasteful' basic research that has no near-term application or justification. After all, how many academic research scientists do you know that try to patent literally everything that crosses their desk? I'm not too young to remember when a scientist applying for a patent was something remotely special, but now that the universities, professors, and affiliate companies realize that there is tremendous money to be made, funding for applied research has gone up and basic research is in need of some better PR.

    It would be sad to see government-funded research wind up the way corporate research is increasingly becoming today: myopic, intimidated, and disposable.

    It just seems to me that there are a lot more scientists (or at least in nanotechnology there are) who would rather chase after their own billion-dollar company than a Nobel prize. Not saying that they are wrong to do so (not sure which one I would choose either), but we can't forget that basic research is what gave us quantum size effect materials, combinatorial chemistry, and fluorescence-linked biological assays.



    [ Parent ]

    View from the inside (3.75 / 4) (#9)
    by JonesBoy on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 10:22:05 AM EST

    Having worked on SIBRs, I believe you are a little paraniod here.

    How do you propose the DOD should develop high tech programs? Completely internally? That makes no sense. Imagine if the government had to build facilities for developing all of its technology. Clean rooms, lazer tables, even the people. They would have to pay the high salaries of the researchers to attract them out of the commercial world and work on the exclusive government project. On top of all this, it seems you would like the developed tecnology to be horded and kept private within these labs (wheel reinvention centers, more likely). And you say they are foolishly spending money now!

    The commercial world already has the infrastructure to develop these high tech ventures, and the knowlegeable people to realize them. Sometimes, companies have projects that can be modified to fit the military's purpose. You save money in the end, revitalize the economy, and (esp. with SIBR) foster small companies to become large, successful organizations. More big buisnesses = more competition for larger projects = cheaper, better goods.

    You call some of the DARPA inquiries science fiction for no good reason.
    Like the morphing airframes - Ever hear of an Osprey, or a swing wing F-14? http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-14.htm Or the robotics one. Have you looked at some of the new MEMS stuff? They have power generation, cameras, RF, GPS, even working "legs" on a chip. I mean, whats the point of research if you don't try to push the envelope? "any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic" If you told a soldier in WWI that they would have a plane that could fly from NY to Moscow in an hour that could drop a single bomb that wipes out most of the city they would giggle. Today its pretty much a reality because people weren't afraid to think big and ask for more, faster, and farther. Anyway, isn't it better to try to develop and fail, then to ignore something and have others develop it? (Think about your sputnik example, and the US embarrasment of loosing most of the space race hurdles)

    Sure there is research going on behind closed doors, but knowledge and research progress faster when we all work together.

    Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
    Nothing wrong with SBIRs. (none / 0) (#11)
    by demi on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 11:39:40 AM EST

    I'm not making any arguments against the DARPA funding at all. In fact, I think I have demonstrated pretty conclusively that from an investment standpoint the infrastructure developments have been a tremendous boon for the US economy (and to the rest of the world too, at least technologically).

    However, as beneficiaries of the developments we shouldn't overlook that this is an example of the taxpayers investing in commercial development, which is hard to argue against when you are looking at Fairchild, Sun, and SGI for instance. This is one example of what people label 'corporate welfare', blindly, without second thought to what benefits it has brought. There are other examples of this phenomenon, which have not been particularly beneficial to the taxpayers, but military funding of high technology is something that has helped a lot of small businesses become internationally competitive as they diversify and improve their DARPA-deveoped technologies.

    IOW: these projects have done a lot of good but we should remember that military funding has played a large part in our commercial development of the last, say, 25 years. So the next time someone comes along and tells you that it's all $600 toilet seats they should be informed otherwise.

    As for the 'science fiction' projects, they are indeed often pulled straight out of speculative fiction. I work in such an area, funded by DARPA, and I have no reservations about using that label. What is the most amazing thing of all is how these projects often bring to everyday reality something that has previously been only a matter of imagination. I love science, science fiction, and I would give my right arm to work on that Neural Interfaces project.



    [ Parent ]

    Sorry, I misinterpreted your intentions (none / 0) (#26)
    by JonesBoy on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 01:52:47 PM EST

    Oh, I thought you were trying to tell us that these investments are a bad thing! My biggest gripe about all of the large government DOD projects is the development of the Uber-company. In the olden days, contracts could be awarded to any of a variety of companies, with the lowest bidder getting the job. Performance ratings kept companies in check; too many bad ratings, and you don't get any more work. Corporate subsidies kept several buisnesses above water even though they had a poor rating, and poor project proposals (Chrysler ring a bell?) This skewed competition it the favor of certain companies which began to eat up all of their competitors.

    Now, there are projects that only one huge company has a chance of winning the contract. If they go overbudget, or simply fail to produce a functional product, what do you do? If you pull the funding, you end up with nothing but losses from sunk costs, and no product. If you stop doing buisness with them, you have to spend a lot to develop a corporation (or expand your own department) to build the product. Your only option is to keep feeding them cash and hope for the best.

    This is what I have seen to be the major contributing factor into the $600 toilet seat. No motivation for success due to lack of competition. That and rediculous acquisition laws and paperwork. All because of artificial monopolies, ogliopolies, and anti-trust violations. Yup, that sums it up.


    Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
    [ Parent ]
    The Only Way to get this work done! (4.00 / 1) (#30)
    by concernedreader on Sat Jan 26, 2002 at 01:23:16 PM EST

    The thing is, much of this work would never get done if it wasn't federally funded. Companies generally don't do work that won't bring a profit in 6-24 months. It has to be subsidized by the gov to get the work done.

    It goes further than that. The government can't afford the researchers to work on this stuff on gov payroll. Their Human Resources policies won't allow them to pay people enough, which means it's near-impossible to pay their normal salaries. The government can only pay people decent salaries one way: pay another company to pay those people. This explains why most of the gov's good IT people are contractors, employees of a contracting firm. It's similar when it requires expensive equipment or labs -- sooner or later, it can only be done by paying someone else to do it.

    [ Parent ]

    corporate welfare (3.00 / 1) (#13)
    by superflex on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 01:22:58 PM EST

    It's called corporate welfare by some, and strategic research by others.

    One could argue that the interests of the U.S. government are served equally well regardless of which perspective you take on this issue.

    The U.S. relies as much on its economic might as it does its military, if not more. Does it not just serve the interests of the U.S. when the government provides a research subsidy to Boeing, perhaps giving them a competitive advantage over Airbus Industrie, or to General Electric, maybe giving them a slight edge over Siemens AG ?

    Similar issues have been a point of contention between Canada and Brazil for several years, resulting in WTO hearings over the Brazilian government providing subsidies to Embraer Air, providing an advantage over thier Canadian competitor, Bombardier. On the flip side, a few months ago the Canadian government was cited by the WTO for providing loan guarantees in a sale of Bombardier jets to a U.S. regional carrier (Wisconsin air, i think).

    IMHO, the U.S. corporate welfare payments are no different. I don't know if they're catagorized differently because it's for R&D, or if the money falls under that wonderful "National Security" blanket of public ignorance, but it's the same damn thing.

    DARPA/NSF good programs... (4.00 / 3) (#15)
    by omegadan on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 06:27:18 PM EST

    As someone whose salary is paid by these institutions I like them :)

    Honestly, some DARPA objectives are a little whacky ... They sent us a an airforce guy who explained to our research lab their "global battlesphere initiative" (im not sure if that was the *exact phrase) which was their strange vision of how warfare would work in the future ...

    *BUT* Alot of good things have come out of these institutions ... and ... while I hate corporate wellfare ... This isn't corporate wellfare, this is *capital investment*. The author lists IC's and the internet as two things that came about becase of DARPA (although it was called ARPA back then) ... *Where would we be* without these things today ? Where would the economy be? <grin> And where would we be if a company had discovered say, the IC and patented it ?

    Religion is a gateway psychosis. - Dave Foley

    GNP (4.00 / 1) (#16)
    by johnnyfever on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 08:43:12 PM EST

    Maybe a stupid question, but out of curiosity, does anyone know what kind of percentage of the US GNP arms sales and the like make up?

    Me, too! (4.50 / 2) (#17)
    by phliar on Thu Jan 24, 2002 at 11:44:31 PM EST

    At various points in grad school, I was supported by (D)ARPA, the NSF and the NIH. You might ask why the NIH -- more specifically, the human genome project -- was interested in funding my research, which was in programming languages, visualisation, usability and user-interfaces. Good question.

    One of my professors went on to become a big-wig at the big player in the human genome project... won't mention any names. That company capitalised on public funding and then competed with the NIH human genome project. Fair? Right? I don't know...

    One thing I do believe, very strongly, is that fundamental research is what a civilised society does. We might not see how humanity is advanced by the study of some little mollusc only found in one bay in Polynesia, but it will! We must continue to fund the NSF and the NIH and give them freedom to fund proposals that survive peer-review.

    (DARPA, on the other hand....)


    Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

    Cisco? (3.00 / 1) (#19)
    by alge on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 06:01:38 AM EST

    Hmm, and here I was thinking cisco was started by two students at some uni. or other, wanting to connect two blocks, putting "illegal" cables all over the place, working from their garage?
    Doesn't sound very DARPA too me. But then I'm a silly Norwegian, .. enlighten me?
    And, btw, the cisco file on e2 is an interesting read.

    vi er ikke lenger elsket her

    A little history... (4.50 / 4) (#23)
    by TON on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 11:05:44 AM EST

    Cisco is just one of many companies that commercialized routing tech.

    A three page survey of Internet Ancient History from Wired. A few ARPA ref's.

    And, another Wired article on Paul Baran, who did work for the DoD and founded many networking companies. The article briefly describes links to Cisco.

    Finally, a neat article on Judy Estrin and Bill Carrico compressing almost three decades into a paragraph; Zilog, to Bridge, to Precept, to Cisco. Plus more on all the usual suspects.

    The basic gist of all of this is that a lot of the technology was worked out at universities, ARPA/DARPA, or RAND; further developed by start-ups; then, purchased by Cisco.


    "First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis

    Ted


    [ Parent ]

    America's myth (2.00 / 1) (#24)
    by core10k on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 12:20:06 PM EST

    Americans love to blather on about 'rags to riches' tails - they're never true, of course, but it's a wonderful way to convince people that dead-end jobs paying barely sustenance-level salaries aren't exploitation.

    [ Parent ]
    America's Truth (none / 0) (#29)
    by NDPTAL85 on Sat Jan 26, 2002 at 05:15:57 AM EST

    Cisco WAS founded by two Stanford U. students who later went on to marry and then divorce after they lost control of the company.

    [ Parent ]
    Spinoffs and the remote control of aircraft (2.00 / 2) (#25)
    by erichuf on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 12:22:18 PM EST

    "Spin offs"
    I often hear people justify a project because it has "spin offs" of other technology. However, almost every project will have spin-offs. An extreme example: if our government put $50 billion into a study of belly button piercings the scientists would likely learn something new about the reaction of human skin to chemicals and metals. But so what? Spin-offs should not justify a project.

    Remote Control of Aircraft
    The author mentions the remote control of reconnaisance aircraft; what about the rumors that they also funded the remote control of commercial aircraft? One article (which quotes former German Minister Von Buelow discussing the rumor) is:
    geocities.com/mknemesis/printer.html

    While this may not seem important, I would like to remind the author and readers that 3 -- not 2 -- huge steel and concrete buildings collapsed into a small pile of dust in New York City. The building that most people forget about has the address of #7. This was a 47-story tall building. Supposedly, a fire caused by falling debris caused this entire structure to crumble into a tiny pile of rubble. These three steel and concrete buildings did not simply "fall down". Rather, they disintegrated.

    If the technology existed in Sept 2001 for somebody to take control of an aircraft while it is in the air, it could explain some of the peculiar aspects of that September 11th attack. More is here:
    www.geocities.com/erichufschmid/CloudsOfConcrete_2.html

    Any comments?

    building 7 (none / 0) (#27)
    by voodoo1man on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 05:21:41 PM EST

    The interesting thing about building 7 is that it was supposed to be fire and bomb resistant: it housed the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management. My father worked as a contractor there a few years ago, and said that key areas of the building had asbestos(!) insulation and the windows were supposed to be bomb-proof. From what I saw of the morning footage though, it looked like one of the corners of the building was struck by a large piece of debris from one of the towers, and was causing lots of horizontal stress on the rest of the structure (the structural beams and the remains of the upper floors were hanging at an angle). Since the concrete isn't really reinforced horizontally, and is actually much more brittle than most people think, it's no surprise that it crumbled.

    Getting back to the point, remote-controlled passenger planes is just asking for trouble. If it can be built, it can be reverse-engineered, and even if the system is put on satellites, by the time it is implemented commercial satellites will be even cheaper than they are today - just a couple of days ago there was a story about a small research satellite being launcher for just $50k, including 6 round-trip tickets to Alaska for the builders to witness the launch.



    [ Parent ]
    Blgd 7 and remote control (none / 0) (#32)
    by erichuf on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 03:13:38 AM EST

    Bldg 7

    The only photo of Bldg 7 that I can find shows only a few flames in the windows, and no damage. The damage may be on the side opposite the photographer, but I still say it is bizarre (actually, I think it is impossible) for that building to have turned into powder just from fire and debris. Look at Bldg 6, which had extreme fires and debris damage; it did not turn to powder.

    Did you even look at the photos? Here are some:

    http://www.geocities.com/erich ufschmid/CloudsOfConcrete_2.html

    Remote-Control

    You say remote-controlled passenger planes is just asking for trouble. Is it any more dangerous than allowing computers to control electric power plants, missiles, railroad switches, or rides at Disneyland? Remote-controlled passenger planes only becomes dangerous if the computers or software is lousy, or if people can gain access to it, but that is true of the software and computers that control industries and most everything else.

    If we could make a reliable remote controlled passenger plane, we would not need pilots in the plane. The pilots could remain in a comfortable office. There is nothing dangerous about it; NASA uses remote control all the time, even with astronauts. (The astronauts lose consciousness during takeoff, from what I understand.) There may be a time in the future when trains and planes no longer need a human in the drivers seat.

    [ Parent ]

    I kind of miss the original SDI because of this... (none / 0) (#28)
    by voodoo1man on Fri Jan 25, 2002 at 06:13:19 PM EST

    One way ahead of its time company that was almost entirely dependent on funding from DARPA was Symbolics. They were the makers of some of the best Lisp machines out there, one of the first (if not the first) companies to commercially produce laser printers, and made some revolutionary graphics advances. For the time, they were making the highest resolution monitors available, and also sold the first color graphics workstations. The S-graphics package (particularly the 3d parts) was revolutionary for its time, and most of the core features still remain unchanged in its current, direct descendant: Izware's Mirai, which still manages to remain quite an amazing graphics package compared to the competition - kinda neat for software that has had the same core interface and concepts, not to mention more than a few lines of code, for over a decade(!) and has not been updated in almost a year.

    After SDI and other defense projects, chief customers of Lisp machines, were abandoned in the early 90s, the sales quickly dried up.

    At least now there's lisp compilers on dirt cheap Intel computers, and the language seems to be getting a little more popular with the general coder populace. Still, having those extra 4 data type bits (hence the 36 bit architecture) on modern machines would be uber-cool.

    As much as I hate corporate welfare and mass destruction, not everything coming as a result of DARPA funding is bad, and there have certainly been breakthroughs. Many companies that would not otherwise have a foot to stand on (Boeing seems a likely candidate - can anyone confirm?) survive and employ engineers as a result of this funding. Heck, some of the money the CEOs make trickles back to the common folk. At least it's better than the politicians hoarding it all (don't put it past them). Now only if they'd do something about these companies' questionable environmental and hiring practices.



    Just what we need... (none / 0) (#31)
    by wagadog on Sun Jan 27, 2002 at 06:38:25 PM EST

    A bunch of dot-bombed suits and "new media" hucksters setting up even *more* boondoggles for the majors and generals to wade through. As if four-hundred dollar hammers and thousand-dollar toilet seats from military contractors and wool-gathering impracticable nonsense with 50% "administrative overhead" fees at universities weren't bad enough.

    Most of the intelligence failures that led to 9/11 were due to lack of basic database integration among the agencies, as well as lack of language skills in the agencies which produced a lack of human intelligence--not a lack of high-tech toys.

    Luckily, basic database integration is one of the few useful things that some of the dot-bombed himbos can actually do .

    But it ain't exactly rocket science. Yah, DARPA should keep doing what it's doing, but the Children Of The Internet belong in cubicles writing up SQL queries, triggers and database replication scripts, not responding to AFOSR RFCs.



    We sure can! (none / 0) (#33)
    by Kugyou on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 10:14:45 AM EST

    I'm currently stretched across two projects involving database/intelligence work for DARPA/JCAG. While I'll agree that a lot of companies take an unfair advantage of administrative overhead, your figure of 50% is underestimated. A goodly-sized company will have a multiplier of closer to 4. You heard me, 400% of their actual wage costs. The company I work for has only eight people and incurs a multiplier of 1.5. Perhaps when some of our "high-tech toys", as you put them, finish the commercialization process, we'll be able to drop that multiplier. But until then, we get paid as the gum-ment sees fit.
    -----------------------------------------
    Dust in the wind bores holes in mountains
    [ Parent ]
    DARPA and the US culture of high technology | 33 comments (33 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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