DARPA chief: U.S. faces critical geek shortage

The director of DARPA said the U.S. faces a severe lack of science and engineering graduates, putting the nation's security at risk.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The director of the Pentagon's research arm said last month that the United States could soon face a severe lack of science and engineering graduates, putting the nation's security at risk.

In testimony before Congress (.pdf) -- the House Armed Services Committee, specifically -- Regina Dugan said poor emphasis on science and engineering education in America may leave the nation unable to call forth an "elite army of futuristic technogeeks."

While that may not seem very significant, consider that DARPA is responsible for some of the nation's most futuristic and far-out advances in science and technology.

Here's Dugan on DARPA's contribution to the nation:

Our responsibility is to our warfighters and to the technological superiority of the Nation’s defense. Frequently, the resulting innovations also contribute significantly to the Nation’s economic vitality. We challenge existing perspectives, break china, and make people excited and uncomfortable, sometimes with the same sentence.

But dwindling funds for DARPA means it can't recruit the best brains, themselves a shrinking resource: colleges and universities in the U.S. saw 43 percent fewer science and computing graduates.

Dugan suggests strategic scholarships, contests and hands-on involvement to prompt interest, but it really comes down to priorities.

Dugan, again:

While we recognize the importance of measures of success, we also recognize the importance of wonder. DARPA has long been a place that nourishes wonder. Our recent Network Challenge captured the imaginations and wonder of many. I would urge you to go to YouTube and see the magic it created. It surprised even us. As humans and as a Nation, we need this sense of wonder. We crave it as children and as adults.

In other words, more gas to power DARPA's "dreamers with V8 engines."

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