DARPA releases strategic plan

DARPA strategic plan

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week released a strategic plan, which lays out the agency's vision for the controversial Total Information Awareness project, as well as its top eight research areas.

The DARPA report, made public Feb. 6, states that as a result of "constant strategic reassessment," the agency is emphasizing research in eight strategic areas:

* Counterterrorism.

* Assured use of space.

* Networked manned and unmanned systems.

* Robust, self-forming networks.

* Detect, identify, track and destroy elusive surface targets.

* Characterization of underground structures.

* Bio-revolution.

* Cognitive computing.

The plan, which was forwarded to Congress Feb. 3 by DARPA director Anthony Tether, was required by a Senate report that accompanied the fiscal 2003 Defense Authorization Act.

The TIA system, which in theory would enable national security analysts to detect, classify, track, understand and preempt terrorist attacks against the United States by using surveillance and spotting patterns in public and private transactions, is part of DARPA's counterterrorism research area.

Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, announced last week that two advisory boards — one internal and one external — will work with DARPA to ensure its TIA research proceeds legally and without infringing on public privacy.

In the realm of network communications, DARPA is working on the Adaptive Joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Node Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program, which is being billed as a multipurpose, reconfigurable "radio frequency device in the sky."

The program, which is in its infancy, will be a single system that can simultaneously perform myriad battlefield communications tasks including: linking previously incompatible radios; signals intelligence; electronic warfare; and information warfare, according to the DARPA plan.

The agency's Information Processing Technology Office is leading the "cognitive computing" research, in which machines can be thought of as systems that know what they are doing. "Cognitive computing systems will have the ability to reason about their environment (including other systems), their goals and their own capabilities," according to the DARPA plan.

DARPA officials are confident that cognitive computing capabilities are becoming more realistic thanks to continued advances in artificial intelligence and related disciplines, such as speech processing and machine learning, as well as continuing rapid improvements in microelectronics, and neural and brain science.

To accomplish its cognitive computing goals, DARPA will focus on the following core research areas in the next few years: computational perception; representation and reasoning; learning, communications and interaction; dynamic coordinated teams of cognitive systems; and robust software and hardware infrastructure for cognitive systems.

"The strategic thrust of cognitive computing will serve as a template to reshape DARPA's enduring foundational work in information technology," according to the plan.

DARPA's current IT efforts include:

* The Software for Distributed Robotics program, which is developing robot behavior and software to enable large groups of small, inexpensive robots to perform useful tasks that will allow human operators to control robot "swarms" without having to consider what each individual robot is doing.

* The High Productivity Computing Systems program, which is focused on the productivity or value of a system, instead of its raw computing speed, in numerous areas from weather and ocean forecasting to cryptanalysis.

* The Enduring Personalized Cognitive Assistant, the newest program, which will launch the creation of intelligent personalized assistants for many tasks that will learn about preferences and procedures by observing their partner humans, but will also accept direct, naturally expressed guidance.

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