Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Chicken-and-Egg Problem

More from Annie Jacobson’s The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Research Agency:
As ARPA director, [Eberhardt] Rechtin believed he knew why the agency had run into so many difficulties during the Vietnam War. He called it the “chicken-and-egg problem” in congressional testimony related to the Mansfield Amendment [which barred the Defense Department from conducting “any research project or study unless the project or study had a direct relationship to [a] specific military function]. When asked by a committee member if it was appropriate to describe the Advanced Research Projects Agency as a “premilitary research organization within the Defense Department,” Rechtin said that if the word “military” were replaced by the word “requirement,” then that assessment would be correct. Unlike the regular military services, Rechtin said, ARPA was a “pre-requirement” organization and that it conducted research in advance of specific needs. “By this I mean that the military services, in order to do their work, must have a very formal requirement based on specific needs.” Rechtin said, “and usually upon technologies that are understood.” ARPA existed to make sure the military establishment was not ever again caught off guard by a Sputnik-like technological surprise. The enemy was always eyeing the future, he said, pursuing advanced technology in order to take more ground. And ARPA was set up to provide the Defense Department with its pre-requirement needs.

“There is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem in other words, in requirements and technology,” Rechtin explained. “The difficulty is that it is hard to write formal requirements if you do not have technology with which to solve them, but you cannot do the technology unless you have the requirements.” The agency’s dilemma, said Rechtin, was this: if you can’t do research before a need arises, by the time the need is there, it’s clear that the research should have already been done.

                       (pp. 335-336)

Eberhardt Rechtin

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