§ARPA model

This is not meant to be a primer on how the ARPA model works or a history of DARPA. See references for plenty of good writing on that. It is not meant to be an unbiased presentation of the facts or argue for a general thesis about the world (though it hints at some.) The explicit goal of this analysis is to acknowledge that DARPA is a massive outlier and to figure out which of the attributes of DARPA contributed to its outlier results with the explicit intention of creating more organizations that can enable more outlier results. §How do we get more awesome sci-fi shit?

The nature of outliers means that you can’t do a data-based analysis. Perhaps controversially, I think it’s foolish to try to find patterns among outliers because outliers are outliers in different ways except in the most broad strokes. Instead, I dig into the things that seem distinctive and ask why they might lead to outlier results. At the end of the day, this is storytelling. But stories are powerful. Of course, it’s easy to take this approach too far and create a story about how anything weird about an outlier contributed to their success. “Steve Jobs only wore one outfit which is important because it allowed him to have EXTREME FOCUS.” I try to avoid this by focusing on why the pieces lead to outlier performance in combination - many people who try to replicate outliers fail by picking and choosing the pieces they want to replicate.

There is some relevant history to deciding what to pay attention to without Cargo culting.

Program Managers

Anything written about DARPA agrees that it’s all about the program managers.

Incentives and Structure

Funding

Process

Riffing on ARPA

Closed Questions

Open Questions

Because a lot of this is just storytelling there are a lot of open questions about different knobs, what happens when you turn them and what they mean in different domains.

Conclusions

Related

References

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