Since 1961, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, has distributed IT research dollars in largely open-ended grants to universities. The grants encouraged basic research aimed not at marketable innovations but at basic scientific mysteries. DARPA and its investments have paid off handsomely nevertheless.
Its legendary role in developing the Internet as a free-for-all instead of a commercially owned space is widely known. Less so are its militarily and commercially important developments, such as global positioning satellites, the JPEG file format for efficiently storing photographs and Websearching technologies like those later refined by Google.
Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, however, Homeland Security officials have pushed DARPA to rein in its democratic funding systems. Grants once available to universities can now flow only to military contractors, and graduate student support once open to the most excellent thinkers can be offered only to U.S. citizens. Administration officials say the changes are needed to keep technological innovations out of the hands of potential terrorists. The effect may be instead to dampen imagination itself.
Here’s the whole thing.
The collection of articles and editorials addressing this issue since the story first ran in the New York Times back on April 1, 2005 (covered previously) is almost too long to list. But I’ve done my best here.