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DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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The history of technology is a rich story with individual, institutional, corporate, and governmental protagonists driven by necessity, the pursuit of fame and fortune, and visions of becoming more powerful actors in the world. The invention and proliferation of new technology has been a primary driver of both local and civilization-scale transformation. It’s a story that features brilliance of the highest order, dogged determination, good luck, bad luck, glorious successes, miserable failures, happy accidents, and lamentable unintended consequences. When it was founded in 1958 in the midst of the Cold War with a charge to prevent technological surprise by potential adversaries, DARPA became part of the ongoing technology story and has been conspicuously influential ever since.
ARPA research played a central role in launching the “Information Revolution,” including developing or furthering much of the conceptual basis for ARPANET, a pioneering network for sharing digital resources among geographically separated computers. Its initial demonstration in 1969 led to the Internet, whose world-changing consequences unfold on a daily basis today. A seminal step in this sequence took place in 1968 when ARPA contracted BBN Technologies to build the first routers, which one year later enabled ARPANET to become operational.

DARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) was born in 1962 and for nearly 50 years was responsible for DARPA’s information technology programs. IPTO invested in breakthrough technologies and seminal research projects that led to pathbreaking developments in computer hardware and software. Some of the most fundamental advances came in the areas of time-sharing, computer graphics, networking, advanced microprocessor design, parallel processing and artificial intelligence.

IPTO pursued an investment strategy in line with the vision of the office’s first director, J. C. R. Licklider. Licklider believed that humans would one day interact seamlessly with computers, which, in his words, “were not just superfast calculating machines, but joyful machines: tools that will serve as new media of expression, inspirations to creativity, and gateways to a vast world of online information." IPTO was combined with DARPA’s Transformational Convergence Technology Office (TCTO) in 2010 to form the Information Innovation Office (I2O).

In the 1960s and early 1970s ARPA funded Interdisciplinary Laboratories (IDLs) at a dozen universities, helping to create a catalytic new research field known as materials science and engineering.
ARPA research played a central role in launching the Information Revolution. The agency developed and furthered much of the conceptual basis for the ARPANET—prototypical communications network launched nearly half a century ago—and invented the digital protocols that gave birth to the Internet.