Because DARPA’s programs push the leading edge of technology, they are sometimes society’s first notable encounter with the societal dilemmas associated with new capabilities. DARPA pursues these technologies because of their promise, and the Agency is committed to exploring domains that could leave the Nation vulnerable if not pursued. But DARPA’s leadership and team members also understand that, in this pursuit, the Agency’s work will at times raise ethical, legal, security or policy questions that cannot and should not go unaddressed.
What are the privacy considerations in using public data to identify security threats, and under what conditions might it be justifiable to develop and test technologies that can infer such private or personal matters as intention or attitude or trustworthiness? How can society guard against misuse of new synthetic biology capabilities, including intentional mischief and accidental release?
In dealing with issues such as these, DARPA’s job is twofold: First, the Agency must be fearless about exploring new technologies and their capabilities; this is DARPA’s core function, and the Nation is best served if DARPA pushes critical frontiers ahead of its adversaries. At the same time, DARPA is committed to addressing the broader societal questions raised by its work and engaging those in relevant communities of expertise to provide context and perspective for consideration. DARPA works rigorously within the law and regulations and with appropriate organizations where legal and policy frameworks already exist. In new and uncharted territory, the Agency engages a variety of experts and stakeholders with varying points of view—both to hear what they and their professional communities of practice have to say and to help convey to those communities DARPA’s insights about what technology can and cannot do.
Societal consensus on difficult questions of technology and policy is notoriously difficult to achieve. And while new technologies can help defuse previously polarizing issues—it is possible, for example, that technology will eventually help manage the problem of assuring privacy, even though technology today has exacerbated that problem—it is important to recognize that technological advances are bound to keep generating new societal quandaries, and that resolving them will demand broad community engagement.
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