The Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has set its latest challenge for researchers–create a new approach to the “identification of people, places, things and activities from still or moving defense and open-source imagery.”  With all the intelligence information pouring into the defense network, innovative technology is needed to cull through vast amounts of visual data.  The mission, according to the Washington Post, is to “create a computer program that can identify just about anything.”

DARPA is a research arm of the Department of Defense.  It was established in 1958 and tasked with “maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.”  In the past, DARPA has hosted challenges related to self-driving cars and humanoid robots, among other things, to encourage civilian participation in technological development.

This latest challenge, known as the Innovation House Study, is being conducted at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia and is slated to take place in the summer of 2012.  DARPA is encouraging teams of private-sphere techies and academics to submit proposals describing how a team would “design, build and demonstrate a radical, novel software-based research approach to . . .  extracting meaningful content from large volumes and variety of visual and geospatial media.”  DARPA has structured Innovation House Study as a collaborative rather than competitive effort, meaning more than one team can win the challenge.

DARPA has not said as much, but some speculate any software developed during the challenge would primarily be used to sift through “loads of street-level video feeds, cellphone data, and drone data.”  The government’s ever-improving ability to efficiently sift through images or videos raises a red flag for some.

Privacy concerns abound, particularly when traditionally military-based technology has the potential for commercial use.  The Innovation House Study leaves the door open for any team that creates a successful algorithm to market their work, as even those teams that opt to issue a Government Use Rights license (in exchange for $20,000) at the end of the project are able to hold on to the commercial rights.

– Katie Kuhn

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