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British DARPA

From Gov UK

Announced in February, ARIA will empower some of the world’s most exceptional scientists and researchers to identify and fund transformational areas of research to turn incredible ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services – helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower.

The chief executive will shape the vision, direction and research priorities for the agency – independent of ministers – while instilling this high-risk, high-reward culture within the organisation from the outset.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

Getting ARIA up and running is one of my main priorities, so I am delighted to see it take another step towards launching with the start of this recruitment round.

We want to recruit a chief executive who will provide the creative, inspiring leadership that the organisation will need – building an exceptional team and embedding the high-risk, high-reward culture to ensure that ARIA thrives.

ARIA is very much the thing that Dom Cummings was in favour of. A British version of DARPA, if you will. It seems like a good idea, as DARPA gave us internet protocol and some other things, but I’m rather sceptical myself.
DARPA was a defence project. It was born out of Sputnik and the cold war and a fear of the Russians having better weapons technology, and founded by Eisenhower who knew a bit about fighting wars. So, most of their innovation was based around the things that the military thought might be useful. The government was the consumer of what they produced. The best known civilian invention, the ARPANET wasn’t big picture research thinking but about people at ARPA wanting to reach a few powerful remote research computers. The modern equivalent is something like Amazon building a cloud computing network to handle all the people buying stuff and realising that they can sell it to others.
And frankly, a lot of what DARPA did was crap, like SDI. They had successes, but if you spend decades doing research projects some are going to work. The question is whether this works better than leaving money in the pockets of the likes of Dyson and Bezos, or whether the government should take a shot.

The UK version doesn’t have a government customer. It’s being led by the department of business, energy and industrial strategy who are some of the most worthless of all bureaucrats in government. People like Amanda Solloway are going to pick the person to lead this. Do you want someone who thinks HS2 is a super great idea selecting the person who is going to pick where to direct blue sky research?
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Climan
Climan
2 months ago

After remunerating the CEO and his/her team, and all the other expenses associated with any organization, I hope that some public money will get spent on highly speculative ideas, those that cannot attract private money, which tends to require a return on the investment.

Spike
Spike
2 months ago
Reply to  Climan

“Bureaucrat to spend part of government budget on highly speculative ideas”? More likely, he’ll spend his budget on highly pedestrian ideas, for which companies lobbying gov’t need a credibility boost, probably to help them secure gov’t financing.

John B
John B
2 months ago

‘…  to identify and fund transformational areas of research to turn incredible ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services…’

Prescient then. Do they predict winning lottery numbers too? If they could do that why wouldn’t they start their own business or sell their incredible ideas to companies?

Barks
Barks
2 months ago

The intractable problem with the government funding these activities is that there exists no known mechanism to signal to the government when something is a failure and when the activity should be halted, shelved or buried. The market, on the other hand, Bezo, Musk and the boys (regardless of what you think about them), sends very strong signals about the feasibility of transformational investigative activities.

Mohave Greenie
Mohave Greenie
2 months ago

DARPA works because it does have a customer, the Services. If after three rounds of development funding, the concept has to find a user who says I need that technology and is willing to start funding it. If that doesn’t happen, the project ends.

Steve
Steve
2 months ago

DARPA’s “crap” played ba good part of why the USSR and Warsaw Pact went away. The Soviets had to honour the threat, no matter how unlikly. That broke them.

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

What broke the Soviets was the collapse in oil prices.

Boganboy
Boganboy
1 month ago
Reply to  Bloke on M4

As far as I know, you’re right, BoM4. As I understand it, the Ayatollah gave some support to the Shia in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion, so they encouraged their ally Saddam to invade Iran from the west. Naturally the West didn’t wish to support a Russian ally or their other fervent enemy, the Ayatollah, so they pushed for the status quo ante. And the merchants of death descended on the mess like a flock of rabid vultures. Capitalism at its finest. If there was one thing there was plenty of during the Cold War it was arms. So more… Read more »

MrVeryAngry
MrVeryAngry
1 month ago
Reply to  Bloke on M4

That and the fact that they produced nothing of value to anyone else. Anyone want a Lada?

Spike
Spike
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

A department didn’t destroy the Soviet Union. A decision to rely on gov’t vs. private industry didn’t destroy it. What destroyed it was Ronald Reagan’s resolve; crucially, his decision to develop an effective defense for the USSR’s principal military weapon, strategic missiles—no matter who conducted the research.

MrVeryAngry
MrVeryAngry
1 month ago
Reply to  Spike

Spike. Reagan AND Thatcher…

Spike
Spike
1 month ago
Reply to  MrVeryAngry

Quite! Parochial comment by me.

MrVeryAngry
MrVeryAngry
1 month ago

It’s the old ‘government can pick winners’ fantasy. I can recall Harold Wilson promoting the same nonsense back in the 1960’s.

Snarkus
Snarkus
1 month ago

I do not see how the most risk averse group on the planet, can pick winners in risky research. I remember back in the day the Oz government committee on research recommending less blue sky research, but only funding assured results or some such nonsense. Meanwhile WiFi was developed by an astronomer trying to solve a signal processing problem.

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