Monday, April 04, 2005

Pentagon Redirects Its Research Dollars

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon - which has long underwritten open-ended "blue sky" research by the nation's best computer scientists - is sharply cutting such spending at universities, researchers say, in favor of financing more classified work and narrowly defined projects that promise a more immediate payoff.
Yet another really bad decision by the Bush administration. The kind of research that they are cutting is the kind that lead to the internet and microprocessors. This is a bad decision not only in terms of American competitiveness (which I don't personally care much about) but in terms of worldwide human progress and well being (which I do care about). Instead of financing basic research that could lead to other great breakthroughs, the Pentagon is focused on short term 9/11 influenced projects.

Darpa officials acknowledged for the first time a shift in focus. They revealed that within a relatively steady budget for computer science research that rose slightly from $546 million in 2001 to $583 million last year, the portion going to university researchers has fallen from $214 million to $123 million.

The agency cited a number of reasons for the decline: increased reliance on corporate research; a need for more classified projects since 9/11. Many grants also limit the use of graduate students to those who hold American citizenship, a rule that hits hard in computer science, where many researchers are foreign.
It makes you wonder what cool breakthrough technologies won't be created, or will be created years later than they could have because of this decision: Mind control, Seeing with your tongue, RoboSurgeons, Machine Translators, Self driving cars, or maybe next generation solar panels?

via New York Times

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