Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×
The Internet

From Sputnik to the WWW, a History of ARPA 53

Ian Lamont writes "Next month is the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, but it's not just the start of mankind's exploration of space that should be observed. The 'October surprise' also changed computing forever, thanks to the subsequent creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency. J.C.R. Licklider, the first director of IT research at ARPA, catalyzed the invention of an astonishing array of IT, from computer graphics to microprocessors to the Internet ... and even an early 'electronic office.' However, the long-range vision that Licklider promoted at the agency is allegedly in danger, according to some observers quoted in the article: 'In the early years, ARPA was willing to fund things like artificial intelligence — take five years and see what happens,' [CMU Professor David Farber] says. 'Nobody cared whether you delivered something in six months. It was, "Go and put forth your best effort and see if you can budge the field." Now that's changed. It's more driven by, "What did you do for us this year?"' Former ARPA director Charles M. Herzfeld blames Congress and a new crop of 'wishy-washy' agency heads. DARPA's response: It still is investing heavily in technologies that may take years to come to market, such as universal language translation, realistic agent-based societal simulation environments, and photonic communications in a microprocessor having a theoretical maximum performance of 10 TFLOPS."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

From Sputnik to the WWW, a History of ARPA

Comments Filter:
  • by downix ( 84795 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @10:53AM (#20729849) Homepage
    Our politicans have surrendered the long term, instead looking for the quick fix. The US economy is now based on "pass the bag", flipping stocks to the next buyer. But what happens to those at the end of the chain.

    And who is there to blame? Ourselves, the voters within the US. We vote based on short-term memories. We vote not on who would do the job best, but by who slings the most mud. We ignore qualifications for image. Politicians are out on a JOB INTERVIEW! The voters are the managers deciding on who to fill in the position. Take it as seriously as if you were hiring the nurse to administer your parents medication, because truth is, you are.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @11:05AM (#20730015) Journal
      Our politicans have surrendered the long term, instead looking for the quick fix. The US economy is now based on "pass the bag", flipping stocks to the next buyer. But what happens to those at the end of the chain.

      I don't know if that's the case. Wheeling and dealing seems to be where the money is, for good or bad. Perhaps we are biased as geeks and wish that brains paid better. Everybody wants their specialty/hobby to be more important than it really is. (Most countries reject heavy wheeling and dealing culture because they feel it "ugly" and demeaning.)

      Our schools may be deluding the population into believing that calculus is an economic savior when it fact it is as outdated as factory work because its cheaper to think overseas.
                       
      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        Our schools may be deluding the population into believing that calculus is an economic savior when it fact it is as outdated as factory work because its cheaper to think overseas.

        Wheeling and dealing is a form of thinking. But you wheel and deal where the money is. And the money goes where the business is.
    • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @11:18AM (#20730227) Homepage Journal
      Our politicans have surrendered the long term, instead looking for the quick fix.

      Except that they haven't. The DARPA spokesman in the article is right, and the "horizon" for DARPA (and CERDEC) programs are at LEAST 4-5 years out. In fact, some might argue that DARPA spends *TOO MUCH* money these days on pie-in-the-sky research and not enough on things that will directly benefit warfighters or civilians. Perhaps some particular program director is hard-nosed about this stuff, but it's certainly not true of DARPA in general.

      Just peruse the list of some of the stuff DARPA is funding for proof of the long horizon:

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Speaking as someone in one of those long horizon projects, the issue is not what they are funding, but how the funding occurs.

        Measuring progress is important and valuable, but many of these programs have very ruthless annual (or worse, more frequent) progress evaluations. How do you fund a graduate student when you might lose funding in 6 months? How do you keep your innovators interested if the regular evaluation hurdles are all consuming?

        What I'm trying to say is that the pendulum has swung too far t
        • by samkass ( 174571 )
          Great points. A lot of the "cost plus" contract awards require accurate a-priori estimation of progress to be made, which is silly when you're inventing something new. But still, a lot of this depends on specific contract vehicles and program managers. DARPA's a big space.
          • This is true. However, if you gave out cost-plus contracts without well-defined metrics, you'd have people screaming at you for throwing money away, subsiding the M-I complex at taxpayer expense, etc. etc.

            There's a razor's edge in between, for funding applied science while also being fiscally responsible (or at least keeping the people who'd like that money for themselves off your back). I'm not sure there are any quick fixes.
  • Once you've read this, read Where Wizards Stay Up Late. Then read Hackers.
  • Drop the Advanced and replace with Bottom-Line Driven Quarterly Report-Oriented.
    • Don't blame the Government. How many times have you heard "The Government should be run as a business to save my tax dollars." Well, over the last 10 or so years that has been the evolving fact. Government agencies want to go to monthly bills for their contracts so they can quickly cut a project if needed or desired. It is supposed to save you tax dollars I guess. Can you imagine the outrage of Joe and Jane Public if they heard on the evening news that there is a government agency with unlimited time lines
  • by Phaid ( 938 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @10:58AM (#20729919) Homepage
    Any more, it reminds me of the great quote from Ghostbusters where Ray tells Venkman: "You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."
  • General Trend (Score:3, Interesting)

    by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @11:01AM (#20729975)
    From industry to Academia the general trend to is to focus on smaller and smaller time frames to judge success. This myopic view is exemplified anytime anything about NASA comes out. People moan about money wasted that could be used for social programs or some ignorant rant about how NASA's funding could prevent world hunger. You can also see it in how companies now are interested only in looking good for the next quarter. Where they mortgage the future of a company just to see higher Quarterly returns. We all hear of how Company X has a banner year but lets go of 1/3 of their workforce before the 2nd quarter to show a even rosier quarter. Academia is now slowly converting into just an alternative corprate R&D lab. Long term basic research is getting harder to fund and you need buzz words like "string theory", "nano technology", "Quantum", and "Intelligent Design" to get any funding from the current Government.

    There are so many things that are useful to know beyond what is immediately useful. If it was naught for the hundred of thinker toiling away on trivial problems we wouldn't have such a broad knowledge base in science. We'd have much better made Full plate armors, Sailing ships, rapiers, pots, cast iron cook ware, black plague repelling perfumes, and Iron Plowshares. Many of the really interesting and unique inventions came about form basic research into trivial things. We need to fund those. Arpa net used to be one of the ones who did this but a general mindset of "we need results this quarter" will hurt science and humanity in general.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      People moan about money wasted that could be used for social programs or some ignorant rant about how NASA's funding could prevent world hunger.

      When it comes to manned space programs, I generally agree. Robotic missions on the other hand do wonderful science and can be just as awe-inspiring at much less cost.

      Arpa net used to be one of the ones who did this but a general mindset of "we need results this quarter" will hurt science and humanity in general.

      You are assuming that progress in general is consid
      • When it comes to manned space programs, I generally agree. Robotic missions on the other hand do wonderful science and can be just as awe-inspiring at much less cost.

        Both constituents important work. The race to get people up there had many spin off technologies come out of the programs and informs us of a lot of basic science. Robots can do a lot as well but there is value in sending people up.

        You are assuming that progress in general is considered "good". If our goal is merely to keep up with the Jones' t
        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
          Both [manned and unmanned missions] constituents important work. The race to get people up there had many spin off technologies come out of the programs and informs us of a lot of basic science. Robots can do a lot as well but there is value in sending people up.

          I have to disagree. The "spinoffs" have been largely exaggerated, and so has manned moon exploration. The "best" moon-rocks were more or less random finds, and a good remote camera is just as good as human eyes at selecting return candidates, if n
          • by dbIII ( 701233 )

            If you dispute investment theory

            Hmm. Something of infinite value that lasts forever is worth nothing. It doesn't quite seem to apply everywhere.

            • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
              Hmm. Something of infinite value that lasts forever is worth nothing. It doesn't quite seem to apply everywhere.

              It is "discounted" over time, not rejected. There is a difference.
                   
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Long term basic research is getting harder to fund and you need buzz words like "string theory", "nano technology", "Quantum", and "Intelligent Design" to get any funding from the current Government.

      Quantum "theory" is the devil's science. True Christians(tm) would never fund such evil "studies." In your arrogance, you may ask "is it a wave?" "is it a particle?" "maybe it's both until I observe it!" The correct answer, of course, is "neither heathen! It's God's will!"

      Now, if you'll excuse me, I ne

  • ...to WWW? ARPA? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sander_ ( 55929 )
    Should be not be welcoming our WWW-creating overlords at CERN for that?

    -A
  • The problem is really simple. Because free markets worked so well for some things, free market processes have been misapplied. It became very much in vogue, during the 1980s and 1990s, to treat research as just another business process. Much as someone would put together an project plan and a bunch of Pertt and Gant charts for defining the development of a new car, we as a people came to believe that we should run all aspects of government in the same way, and you simply can't.

    Business processes are abou
  • Here is a little know story about Sputnik. My father grow up in a small town called North Hatly located in south eastern Quebec Canada. One night when Sputnik was in orbit him and his buddy found an old box of Russian flares from world war two and the gun to launch them. They were board and decided to ride around the town and launch them from the car. Because the flares were old they did not reach the full height and were still burning when they hit the ground. After about an hour they had fired most o
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      his buddy found an old box of Russian flares from world war two...One of the flares had landed in a farmer's field and burned a circle of about 10 -15 feet. The farmer say it land and panicked. He called the police and told them that Sputnik had landed in his field.

      That's classic. Great story; I'd love to see the expression on the farmer's face. In the age of Homeland Security, those kind of pranks can easily get you jail time or at least hell in court, like the glowy "ad bomb" and the circuit-board airpo
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @11:21AM (#20730259) Homepage
    As others have noted, the focus on short-term payoffs is not limited to DARPA but affects our whole society. The days when private corporations invested in basic research is gone.

    Gone, too are the J. C. R. Lickliders and Vannevar Bushes and Jerome Wiesners who laid the foundations of our technical and scientific success. The President's Science Advisory Council vanished under Nixon. The Office of Technology Assessment was abolished under Reagan. Science and engineering are no longer at the table when national policy is being decided.

    And the current hostility toward immigration and the hoops that foreign grad students and postdocs have to jump through isn't helping, either.

    Call the roll of the people who gave us our nuclear weapons. Sure, there were the Harold Ureys and E. O. Lawrences and Richard Feynmans, but a lot of it depended on foreign scientists escaping the European dictatorships. Postwar, the space race was a contest between "our German scientists and their German scientists."

    And now we have an administration that is not only fostering science and engineering, it seems to have an active hostility toward it. Somewhat reminiscent of the days of the Soviet Union when Lysenko came to the fore.

    I think it's probably too late for the U. S. to maintain its present position of world leadership in science and technology. The conditions that nourished that leadership have been too absent for too long.
    • Call the roll of the people who gave us our nuclear weapons. Sure, there were the Harold Ureys and E. O. Lawrences and Richard Feynmans, but a lot of it depended on foreign scientists escaping the European dictatorships. Postwar, the space race was a contest between "our German scientists and their German scientists."

      Actually, as a point of historical fact, "German scientists" really didn't do all -that much- in the space race. Within the USA, Von Braun's Jupiter - C and Redstone were both ultimately failures as the ICBMs they were intended to be, soon supplanted by the solid fueled Minuteman. It was Convairs "Atlas" booster that delivered the first Americans into orbit. From there, really, he did some good work on the Saturn V, and it did get us to the moon, but, the really hard parts about the moon were the lunar orbit rendevous, the lander, and the apollo spacecraft itself, and all of those were done by American contracting companies.

      On the Soviet side, the space race had scarcely no German help. It was Korolev that was the brain child of all of the early Soviet successes. Had he not died on the table during what should have been a routine operation, it is very likely the Soviets might have finished their own massive N-1, and, while they wouldn't have necessarly been able to put a man on the moon, they could have done some interesting things with it.
      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        Deborah Cadbury's book "The Space Race" and presumably the related BBC documentary has a lot on this. The V2 program and those that worked on it had a large influence in both countries although it appears that Korolev had far better ideas and despaired that he was permitted to do little other than V2 copies early on. The Russians ran the classic Indian outsourcing trick - send in untrained technicians to work with the germans and once that technician knew enough replace them with another until they had a
      • Actually, as a point of historical fact, "German scientists" really didn't do all -that much- in the space race. Within the USA, Von Braun's Jupiter - C and Redstone were both ultimately failures as the ICBMs they were intended to be, soon supplanted by the solid fueled Minuteman.

        Actually, as a point of historical fact, Jupiter C and Redstone were I R BMs - and as such were not supplanted by anything as the whole class of missiles were superceded by I C BMs (Though the two classes did exist in parallel fo

    • And the current hostility toward immigration and the hoops that foreign grad students and postdocs have to jump through isn't helping, either.

      It's not hostility to immigration. It's illegal immigration. I think you would find that a lot of right wingers on the forefront of the illegal immigration charge have a lot of H1-B employees with engineering degrees wondering why they have to jump through so many hoops to be a citizen when evidentally a bunch of illiterate crop pickers get to be citizens after sneaking across the border.

      I do recall that Bush's immigration bill would have raised the H1-B limit, AND, changed the requirements for legal entry to be stacked more along an educational and professional background, rather than, how poor an immigrant is, or how much family there is, as is the case today.
      • I think you would find that a lot of right wingers on the forefront of the illegal immigration charge have a lot of H1-B employees with engineering degrees wondering why they have to jump through so many hoops to be a citizen when evidentally a bunch of illiterate crop pickers get to be citizens after sneaking across the border.

        Now now, just because they aren't fluent in English doesn't mean they can't read any written languages. You do know that there are other languages, right?

        • by tjstork ( 137384 )
          ow now, just because they aren't fluent in English doesn't mean they can't read any written languages. You do know that there are other languages, right?

          If they were really literate in Spanish, they most likely would not be picking fruit for a living, now would they? Mexico's per capita GDP, while lower than the USA, still supports a reasonable middle class. In other words, the REALLY smart Mexicans are still in Mexico, working for either the telecommunications or petro giants.
          • Mexico's literacy rate is 91% (CIA World Factbook). Their poverty rate is 40% (same source). 18% of Mexico's labor force is engaged in agriculture in Mexico.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by tjstork ( 137384 )
              Mexico's literacy rate is 91% (CIA World Factbook). Their poverty rate is 40% (same source). 18% of Mexico's labor force is engaged in agriculture in Mexico.

              Yep, and with a population of 108 million, that's about 11 million illiterate people, and, they are all in the USA! :-) Seriously, though, the language of the USA is english, if only, ever other immigrant class learned it, and so should mexicans.
              • by anothy ( 83176 )
                It would be nice if you learned english. I'm not even entirely sure what that last sentence is supposed to say. "if only" what?

                in addition to being hypocritically ungrammatical, you're factually incorrect. English is not "the language" of the US in any legally significant way beyond custom. Several individual states have explicit recognition of additional languages, either as co-equal with english or as recognized official secondary languages (California has a list of like 17 or some such). Stay in the rig
      • It's not hostility to immigration. It's illegal immigration. I think you would find that a lot of right wingers on the forefront of the illegal immigration charge have a lot of H1-B employees with engineering degrees wondering why they have to jump through so many hoops to be a citizen when evidentally a bunch of illiterate crop pickers get to be citizens after sneaking across the border.

        Agreed; the people who get really screwed by the current immigration system are the people who play by the rules. It's qu
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Every corporation I have worked for doesn't even care about short term. They care about next quarter, how does the books look for the investors.

      Working at a corporation sucks now. you never get to work on a cool business changing project anymore, just the never ending band aids that are used to keep profits high and costs low.

      I had to fight hard with finance to convince them that actually having a working backup system was important. They did not want to spend the several thousand dollars for the new ba
      • by CRiMSON ( 3495 )
        I hate to say it, but then you work for a shitty corporation. As much as making money is there goal, the one I work for realises you gotta spend money to make money, and that IT isn't something you buy and that's the end. It's constantly evolving, and you can either keep up, or fall behind and be screwed. Luckly mine keeps up.
  • When you look at what ARPA's done for the US, you have to wonder why they would ever consider changing the process. That just seems foolish.
  • "realistic agent-based societal simulation environments"

    Looking from outside, the US already looks like Simulacron-IV, so what to extend further?

    CC.
  • There is a strong industry interest in AI and universal translators and they are companies willing to fund research for 5 years for a potential of a big payoff. I am thinking of Japanese companies - look at mostly useless Sony pet robots that are getting increasingly sophisticated.

    Perhaps the agency should move to completely undeveloped areas of technology like useable quantum computers. Management will then automatically have more respect for lack of immediate results as there is no commercial competition
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:13PM (#20731097) Homepage

    DARPA is doing OK; they've been getting results. I've dealt with DARPA on and off since the 1980s, and I ran a DARPA Grand Challenge team. That was something that needed doing. DARPA had been funding robotics research since the 1960s without much to show for it that DoD could actually use.

    The academic AI community needed some serious butt-kicking. CMU had been working on automatic driving since the 1980s, with very slow progress. Stanford AI had totally tanked. MIT AI was off on the behavior-based robots tangent, which had peaked in the early 1990s. Some of the old guys had to be shoved aside to get things moving again. That's now happened.

    In the private sector, though, computer science research is almost dead. Google is focused on applications; they do a little theory, but not much. Microsoft did some good work; their big contribution was moving Bayesian statistics into the mainstream, something for which Bill Gates was directly responsible. Beyond that, there's not much. The DEC research centers are gone; HP Labs barely exists, PARC was dumped by Xerox and isn't doing much, Bell Labs is barely alive, and IBM Almaden was severely downsized. (I happened to be visiting IBM Almaden the day IBM exited the disk drive business. It was like a funeral.) Apple does little basic research any more. Sony SCEA diverted most of their research talent into dealing with the horrors of the PS3 programming problem.

    Smart people aren't going into research any more. They go into startups. Or finance. The two best people on our DARPA Grand Challenge team went to hedge funds, where they did very well financially.

  • I guess you get the government you deserve.
  • "No, I'm not looking at your searches," the man said in a mocking whine. "That would be unconstitutional. We see only the ads that show up when you read your mail and do your searching."
  • Seriously, does this still need to be repeated? The web was invented at CERN [web.cern.ch], a European nuclear physics research facility.

Dreams are free, but you get soaked on the connect time.

Working...