Darpa’s Crowdsourcer-in-Chief Bolts for Microsoft
# By Noah Shachtman
# July 15, 2010
# 9:00 am
Darpa’s leading advocate for crowdsourcing and other ways of tapping new talent is leaving to join Microsoft — after only a year at the Defense Department’s top R&D division.
Peter Lee, the former head of Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department, joined Darpa to head up its new Transformational Convergence Technology Office. The group quickly became known within the agency for avoiding the traditional cadre of military researchers — and reaching out to the rest of us, instead.
Lee helped organize Darpa’s “Network Challenge,” which sent people scouring the country for a set of 10 big red balloons in an attempt to “explore the roles the internet and social networking play [in] timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization,” according to an agency website.
Lee’s office also launched “Transformative Apps,” a project to create a marketplace for soldier software. “It’s like an iPhone store. Everybody figures out rapidly which apps are really the coolest. And instead of paying for the development of software, we pay for the usage,” says Dan Kaufman, director of the Information Processing Techniques Office.
Kaufman is assuming Lee’s accounts and intends to keep up Lee’s unconventional approach.”We’ll also set up a big community of war fighters chatting about what they really freakin’ need — and developers get to jump in and say, ‘Hey, I can do that.’”
Lee will officially depart from the agency in the fall to join Microsoft Research Redmond as managing director. He’s the third director of Darpa’s seven major offices to leave since Regina Dugan took over the agency in June 2009.
That’s heavy turnover, even in an agency which prides itself on keeping managers only briefly. “It’s bittersweet,” says Kaufman. “We owe him a lot, even though he wasn’t here very long.”
Photo courtesy Carnegie Mellon University
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