Visions of ARPA

  • Hoover I
  • States that ARPA became DARPA in 1996
    Pushing the Frontiers of Basic Science to solve a well defined use-inspired need

Policy Exchange Recommendations

  1. Government should move rapidly to establish UK ARPA
  2. Government should clearly set out role, objectives, and mission of ARPA
  3. Government should get bipartisan support for ARPA
  4. ARPA should not execute research or have its own labs
  5. ARPA should focus on developing technologies on a 10-15 year horizon
  6. ARPA should be judged on successes not rate of failure
    • Ruthlessly cut off funds for failing projects
  7. Small number of missions
    • 2-4 missions
    • Reviewed by minister of science every five years
  8. Project managers must be capable, empowered, and given genuine authority
  9. Minimal Bureaucracy
    • Project managers should need to convince 2 people
  10. Government must also develop commercial pull-through to bring ARPA tech to market
    • Reform of public sector procurement
    • Single strategic customer for an area
    • Establishment for tech to market group
  11. Structure
    • Offices (2-4)
      • Projects (5-10 per office)
        • Grant Allocations £500k-5m per grant

          A Brief History of the UK Science and Innovation System

  12. Department for Scientific and Industrial Research established in 1916
  13. DSIR didn’t raise level of industrial research in UK
  14. Medical research council formed in 1920
  15. Agricultural research council formed in 1931
  16. “Loss” of penicillin - it was discovered in the UK but commercialized in the US
  17. National Research Development Corporation in ~1950 to commercialize discoveries from publically funded ideas to 'prevent foreigners from filching ideas’
  18. Minister for science 1959
  19. Ministry of Supply (which handled purchase of military equipment) and Ministry of Aviation controlled several laboratories.
  20. Ministry of Technology formed in 1964
    • Took over Atomic Energy Authority, NRDC and parts of DSR
    • Dismantled in 1970
  21. Lord Rothschild pushed customer/contractor principle
  22. Labour returned to office and set up National Enterprise Board in 1974
    • Created Inmos semiconductor and Celltech biotech
  23. Thatcher in 1979 sold off Inmos, and Celltech
  24. NEB+NRDC -> private British Technology Groups - got first refusal rights on discoveries coming from publically funded research
    • NRDC failed to patent monoclonal antibodies
  25. Thatcher approach was to use public money only for basic research
  26. Research Assessment Exercise/Research Excellence Framework created to make sure research directed towards areas where "peer review established research as outstanding”
  27. Policies of 1960’s/1970’s “failed”
  28. 1997 tried to figure out how to create more university-private linkages (p16)
  29. 2013 government moved more towards helping tech get from lab to marketplace (p17)
  30. Put Research Councils and Innovate UK into a new org - UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) (p18)
  31. UKRI focus on
    • Healthcare and Medicine
    • Robotics and AI
    • Batteries
    • Self driving vehciles
    • Manufacturing and materials
    • Satellites and Space
  32. Unclear whether support for this system will continue

Lessons from US Science and Innovation System

  • 1969 R&D in Germany+Japan+UK+France = $11.3B
  • 1969 R&D in US = $25.6B
  • US has porous boundaries between universities and industry
  • More antimonopoly in US
    • Cites IBM software unbundling
  • Funds to VC increased after 1979 when government pension funds could invest
  • NASDAQ was more suited to young companies
  • Uncoordinated government agencies help fund in US
  • DARPA initial funding for networking had no obvious commercial payoff (p22)
  • Trump administration wanted to dismantle ARPA-E
  • Balance between freedom and accountability - as more freedom is given to individuals, the talent of the individuals matters more.

The government’s proposals

  • “new funding agency broadly modeled on ARPA”
  • £800 over five years
    Less formally
  • Offer academics funding >10 years
  • Attributeds idea to Dominic Cummings

A summary of the DARPA Model

  • Cites The Endless Frontier as creating the ‘Pipeline Model' for science
  • Technology push/technology supply model
  • The (idea) valley of death between ‘front end’ - university/R&D etc and 'back end' - usually private.
  • Describes DARPA as an intermediary
  • Says DARPA passes off research
  • DARPA uses a Technology visioning process
  • Looks for revolutionary breakthroughs
  • Principles From 39. DARPA (2005), ‘DARPA - Bridging the Gap, Powered by Ideas,’ DARPA: Arlington, Va. ; DARPA (2003), ‘DARPA Over the Year (p29)
    • Small and flexible 100 program managers and office directors
    • Flat
    • Entrepreneurial
      • Program managers are there only 3-5 years
    • No Labs
    • Focus on impact not risk
    • Seed and Scale - funding to a bunch of different things
    • Autonomy from civil service hiring process
    • Hybrid model - taps firms and universities
    • Teams and networks - tries to create great groups
    • Acceptance of failure
    • Orientation to revolutionary breakthroughs in a connected approach
  • None of those principles are written down
  • Catalyze formation of great groups - focus on people as innovators and connect them
  • Apply the Island/Bridge Model - put innovation entity on an island and protect from 'suits'
  • Create a community of people both inside the organization and outside of it that creates legacy of thought
  • Connecting Technologists and operators
    • DARPA TTO stays in constant contact with DoD to make sure inventions are relevant
  • Transitioning technology
    • DARPA can build directly into the DoD procurement process
    • Claims DARPA computer tech was originally civilian and supported by VC
    • Claims VC is not working for “hard tech” that requires more manufacturing or
    • ARPA-E created ‘tech to market’ group
      • Tech to market group tried things like ‘creating alliances with established companies' and 'follow on funding
  • IARPA had >70% of projects that passed midpoint be adopted by an intelligence agency

ARPA: A critical addition to our innovation landscape

  • ARPA should aid transition for ideas from lab to market
  • Network of ‘Catapults’ working closely with industry
  • ‘Technology pull’ comes from big companies
  • Reasons industry hasn’t picked up research from universities
    Communication related
    • Industry tends to focus on higher TRLs and engages less with science
    • Academics are not motivated or rewarded for having ideas applied
    • People who think broadly about where research could go are not rewarded in the current systems
      Risk, Customer, and Industrial Landscapre related
    • Hard to find funding for high risk ideas with significant capital costs to demonstration
    • UK doesn’t have supply chain in some areas like materials
    • No market for some ideas
    • Henry Royce Institute is UK’s national institute for advanced materials
  • ARPA doesn’t need to stimulate good research
  • ARPA needs to ‘pick winners and take risks’
  • Things an ARPA will need
    • Great program managers
    • Few constraints
    • Be able to risk public money
    • Concept of a customer
    • Universities that can deal with tranches of funding that can stop
  • Places an ARPA might be effective
    • Graphene
    • Photonic materials
    • Photon multiplying materials
      (Energy trnaisiton, clean water, sensing and monitoring)
  • “Crown shaped molecules to sieve CO2 out of the air”

UK ARPA: An experiment in science policy?


  • Richard Jones
  • Science funding is based on one of three philosophies
    1. Competitive funding for projects - groups propose work to be done and is judged by other scientists
    2. Funding for people
    3. Funding for program managers/leaders
  • ARPA customer shouldn’t be academia or industry
  • Contract R&D labs like SRI Internationaldon’t exist in the UK
  • ARPA should not be part of UKRI

ARPA’s place in the UK’s Public Research Landscape

  • ARPA should be part of UKRI

Navigating high scientific risk and high innovation risk to reap the rewards of ARPA funding

  • Getting science funding is inefficient
  • Funding bodies don’t want to take on risk
  • Claims ARPA-E has been less successful with commercialization
  • Areas that should be funded: clean growth, AI, healthy aging, future mobility
  • Could provide funding to early researchers who want to work on crazy things
  • Public procurement is too afraid to take risks
  • Focus on more local procurement

Designing a British DARPA

  • Estimate that 85% of DARPA projects don’t work
  • Lots of stuff

When failure is the key to success

  • Need to make the org risk tolerant
  • Kill projects that aren’t doing well and ones that aren’t going fast enough
  • Mission is important
  • Key pieces - focus, long-term backing, high failure tolerance, sufficient funding
  • Where does the customer come from?
  • Mandate that 5% of public sector budgets need to be spent on innovative solutions
  • Public procurement as an innovation driver


  • Do people actually know what they’re saying about commercialization or is it a Suitcase Handle Word
  • How successful did DARPA look ten years in?
  • How much of the structure that we analyze and praise about DARPA was actually in place during the time period when DARPA created the outputs that we praise?
  • Why is it necessarily true that markets like energy take a long time? Didn't electrificatin happen privately and
  • Does Royce institute have a list of companies that want advanced materials and which ones they want?
  • Would researchers accept grants with “no go” gates?
  • How much funding do you actually need
  • What if companies would spend more on new solutions


  • Factually incorrect that ARPA became DARPA in 1996
  • Could you measure burocracy by the average number of people you need to convince/number of people who need to look at something to get permission for something?
  • The review of British policy never talks about WHAT WORKED
  • General tech areas are bullshit
  • Uncoordinated government agencies leading to good research is related to More Uncorrelated Mistakes lead to more success
  • There is something valuable in an organizations desire for self-preservation (contra in the government how it can just be killed at will)
  • They say that DARPA is an intermediary bridging valley of death but it's really not
  • Maybe should use revolutionary breakthroughs instead of Quantum Leaps, Innovations, and Discrete Improvements
  • Island/Bridge Model seems to be the same as Separate soldiers and scientists+ Manage the Transfer not the Technology
  • Bridges need to be back to senior people in the production org
    • This person needs to be actually involved in the bridging not generally handwaving
      • This model is how old school pharma companies work
  • The concept of “Ideas stuck in lab” is lazy thinking. The reason ideas are "stuck in labs" is because they weren't created to ever leave the lab.
  • So fucking little conviction about the things that should be funded without the balls to say "leave it up the porgram managers"
  • “Failure is good” is bullshit




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