Those companies could only keep
up with Moore’s law by going from
hundreds of chip designers focused
on eking out every last electron, to
hundreds of thousands of designers
throughout the industry who could
excel at various pieces of the design.
When you open up the process like
that, the number of people and the
diversity of people who can participate goes way up.
DARPA is known for top, top secret
technologies. Yet with some of
these crowdsourcing experiments
[see “Turning to the Crowd,” page
80], you are transparently setting
up websites where anyone can upload a video of their experiment.
How do you reconcile these two opposing ideas?
We have to do both. I’m sure you’re
familiar with James Surowiecki’s
book [ The Wisdom of Crowds]. He
has this great story of Francis Gal-
ton’s visit to a livestock show in
1906. Galton’s motive was to show
that the average person wasn’t very
smart. His basic theory was we
should leave government to the
smart few and not to the masses.
So he came upon this contest to
guess the weight of a butchered and
dressed ox. And what he discovered,
quite to his frustration, was that
the crowd was, in fact, exceedingly
smart. The mean, as predicted by
the crowd, was 1,197 pounds, and
the actual weight was 1,198 pounds.
It was a profound outcome.
When former Secretary of Defense
[Robert] Gates and his deputy inter-
viewed you, did they ask how you’d
change DARPA? Or is it the case that
you were appointed and then made
decisions on how best to proceed?
When I first arrived, there was a lot
of debate about whether the agency
would get pulled more in the direc-
tion of basic science or more toward
applied research. Obviously, I con-
sider that a false choice. Probably
the single biggest reason that I came
back to serve here was that I be-
lieved lack of adaptability is a vul-
nerability in and of itself. This is
something that has to be addressed
specifically: the ability to adapt.
So getting your employees to buy
in is a huge deal. Tell me about your
first days on the job.
I decided that I had to meet every
single person in the agency. At that
time, there were 217—I know the
number precisely! So I did it in back-to-back 10-minute meetings. The
deputy director and I met everyone.
What did you get out of that?
It was valuable to me, dispropor-
tionate to my expectations. These
are the musicians in this DARPA
That sounds like a crazy few weeks.
Yes, but that was only the first step.
The next was to understand the portfolio of projects. And that was as
awesome a task as meeting everyone. And it takes even longer.
Are you always a 60-to-80-hour-a-
The first year and the second have
been at a really crushing pace. But
that kind of intensity is important.
I tell young people who ask me about
their careers, “Wake up on Saturday
and ask yourself, Which job would
I go to right now? Then choose that
one.” Because what it tells you is
that you’re going to your passion;
your passion is your work. And I feel
that way about my work.