Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Software Programming

Pushing the boundaries of computer coding, including language development

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Machine learning – the ability of computers to understand data, manage results, and infer insights from uncertain information – is the force behind many recent revolutions in computing. Email spam filters, smartphone personal assistants and self-driving vehicles are all based on research advances in machine learning. Unfortunately, even as the demand for these capabilities is accelerating, every new application requires a Herculean effort. Even a team of specially-trained machine learning experts makes only painfully slow progress due to the lack of tools to build these systems.
During the past decade information technologies have driven the productivity gains essential to U.S. economic competitiveness, and computing systems now control significant elements of critical national infrastructure. As a result, tremendous resources are devoted to ensuring that programs are correct, especially at scale. Unfortunately, in spite of developers’ best efforts, software errors are at the root of most execution errors and security vulnerabilities.
Pittsburgh this weekend offered a look into the future of cybersecurity, with students from each of the nation’s Service academies scrambling to protect their computer systems, find adversaries’ vulnerabilities and exploit them in the second annual CyberStakes Live competition, sponsored by DARPA. More than 40 students participated in this year’s event, which tested teams’ and individuals’ abilities in numerous core cybersecurity skills and culminated in two exciting Capture the Flag (CTF) contests modeled after the global tournaments that attract many of the world’s top cybersecurity experts.
As modern software systems continue inexorably to increase in complexity and capability, users have become accustomed to periodic cycles of updating and upgrading to avoid obsolescence—if at some cost in terms of frustration. In the case of the U.S. military, having access to well-functioning software systems and underlying content is critical to national security, but updates are no less problematic than among civilian users and often demand considerable time and expense. That is why today DARPA announced it will launch an ambitious four-year research project to investigate the fundamental computational and algorithmic requirements necessary for software systems and data to remain robust and functional in excess of 100 years.
The initial phase of a DARPA program that used publicly accessible online games to accelerate the verification of software has helped produce hundreds of thousands of program annotations in common software programming languages, adding credence to the idea that digital games can be an effective means of crowdsourcing solutions to software problems. The results have inspired DARPA to launch a new round of games with the goal of extending the successes to date and learning more about the approach’s potential.