At DARPA, an 'elite army of futuristic techno-geeks'

At the D9 conference, DARPA director Regina Dugan explains why the agency is on the cutting edge of emerging technological research and development.

Regina Dugan, the director of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, was a featured speaker at the D9 conference this morning in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. -- and she had some interesting things to say about the Pentagon's mysterious research arm.

Dugan, who leads the group responsible for developing high-risk, high-payoff, highly strategic projects for American combatants -- and is the first woman to do so -- said she likes to call DARPA "the nation's elite army of futuristic techno-geeks."

Per that mission, here are eight gems from her conversation with Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg, via Liz Gannes:

  • "Our singular mission is the prevention and creation of strategic surprise." Also: "Our currency is national security."
  • As a project manager, she worked on a project around explosive detection based on a dog's nose, using photoluminescent polymers.
  • "We're working on technology now that would help us to produce vaccines in tobacco plants, and might have implications elsewhere."
  • "We have a hypersonic program at DARPA, Mach 20. Could get you back to [Washington] D.C. in an hour [from California], but it might be a little warm."
  • "Failure isn't the problem, it's the fear of failure."
  • On cybersecurity: "We have a program called DARPA PROCEED to develop fully homomorphic encryption. So it's never decrypted. For three decades people used this as an example of something that's impossible. About a year and a half ago, Craig Gentry did this...but it's about 14 orders of magnitude too slow. If we could accomplish that, would be breakthrough for everyone."
  • "DARPA is one of the highest densities of significant technically trained people in the government."
  • "In ISR [Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance] we're swimming in sensors and drowning in data."

Amazing stuff.

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