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Politics & Current Affairs

American Innovation, Thy Name Is DARPA

Think the private sector has a monopoly on innovation and government is just hopeless bureaucracy? Not DARPA. It’s the agency that invented the Internet and flies at Mach 20. 

What’s the Latest Development?

If you think Google or Apple had a monopoly on large-scale innovation, you must not have heard of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. This government agency, with a modest $3 billion in annual funding compared to the Pentagon’s $75 billion, is responsible for the Internet, for trying to grow vaccines inside of plants, for building a glider that can fly at 20 times the speed of sound and for researching the technical requirements of interstellar space travel. DARPA represents the best of what American ingenuity has to offer.

What’s the Big Idea?

But DARPA had lost its way during the height of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, focusing on projects that needed immediate solutions, such as stopping IEDs, rather than dreaming big. Then, three years ago, when DARPA hired Regina Dugan, the agency’s first female director, she encouraged the agency to take big risks that would benefit all society, not just the military. As Dugan told Congress two years ago, one of DARPA’s missions remains leveraging democratized, crowd-sourced innovation. And while this public agency may be king of innovation, the private sector is no courtly fool. In March, Dugan left DARPA for Google. 

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