M*A*S*H á la DARPA

First there was HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Then came R2D2 from "Star Wars." R2D2 begat Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." These were three intelligent machines that assisted their human counterparts.

According to senior officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the next generation will be cognitive personal assistants, similar to Radar of "M*A*S*H" fame.

"Radar was no rocket scientist, but he knew what his colonel needed before the colonel did," said Ronald Brachman, director of DARPA's Information Processing Technology Office, speaking at the DARPATech 2004 conference last week in Anaheim, Calif. "That's the kind of system we want to build."

DARPA is engaging in a new endeavor to develop a computer system capable of learning and thinking.

Brachman did not specify, however, if DARPA's assistant will also sleep with a teddy bear, as Radar did.

ITES watch

First there were two. Now there are four.

Army officials are considering one of four projects for the first task order of the $1 billion Information Technology Enterprise Solutions contract. The contracts could fund projects that would:

  • Develop standards for the popular Army Knowledge Online portal.
  • Provide the service's Program Executive Office-Simulation, Training and Instrumentation with a network administrator because the Navy group with which it shares a building in Orlando, Fla., soon will be part of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet.
  • Outsource IT support through Fort Monmouth, N.J.
  • Allow the Defense Logistics Agency to use the ITES contract for one of its programs.

The Army's Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems doesn't expect to announce the first ITES deal during its industry conference Wednesday and Thursday in Arlington, Va., said Kevin Carroll, program executive officer for enterprise information systems.

PEO-EIS officials originally said they would finalize the first ITES order in January. But Carroll said it will likely happen later this month or in April because the Army's IT shop wants to be sure the contract works as advertised.

"I really want people to look at ITES as a contract that does performance-based contracting, not just have the appearance of performance-based contracting," Carroll said.

Bucking the transformation trend

One can't walk five steps down the Pentagon's hallways without hearing the word "transformation." It is used to describe everything from the technology Defense Department officials want to buy to the new mind-set so prevalent in the building.

But one major unified command is imposing grammar-school English lessons.

"I do not allow the word 'transformational' to be used in my headquarters," said Navy Adm. James Ellis, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command in Nebraska. "It's not that I have anything against the noun 'transformation,' or even the verb 'transform,' but out of deference to my high school English teacher, it's the adjective 'transformational' that concerns me."

Ellis said the word is overused. "If you need to keep telling people you're transformational, maybe you're not."

The fact that the term applies to almost everything DOD is doing these days also gets under his skin.

"Someone once briefed me on a transformational plan for the procurement of small- caliber ammunition," he said. "And I said, 'My God, they're just bullets!'"

Ellis, already a four-star admiral, probably doesn't have to worry about being demoted for swimming counter to the Pentagon's stream.

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