Faculty + Staff

Faculty briefed on U.S. intelligence community funding for research

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Jason Matheny - Keith Parker
UCLA

From left: IARPA director Jason Matheny, joined by Keith Parker, assistant vice chancellor, UCLA Government and Community Relations, said that the research interests of UCLA faculty and students are highly relevant to much of the work that his agency funds.

The United States intelligence community wants to fund UCLA research to tackle some of the most difficult challenges faced by the intelligence agencies and advance our nation’s intelligence capabilities.

That’s the message delivered by Jason Matheny, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), during an Aug. 25 campus visit with more than 30 UCLA faculty members, campus officials and students in disciplines ranging from engineering to medicine to nanosystems.

“UCLA has so much talent in so many disciplines,” Matheny said. “The research interests of faculty and students here are highly relevant to much of the work that IARPA funds.

“In the words of one of our staff members,” he added, “it ranges from A.I. (artificial intelligence) to Zika.”

IARPA invests in high-risk, high-payoff research programs, including unique seedlings and studies. The organization has invested millions in research in biology, chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science and more.

“There is a research opportunity in pretty much every discipline,” Matheny said. “The goal of national intelligence is to make sense of the world, and that really does involve every discipline.”

Matheny talks research with UCLA Engineering faculty.

Founded about a decade ago, IARPA is probably best known for its funding of research in machine learning, quantum computing, neuroscience and human judgment. Despite being part of the intelligence community, Matheny noted, the organization is very open: Peer-reviewed results and data are published to the greatest possible extent, he said, and approximately 90 percent of what is funded is unclassified.

UCLA officials came away from the meeting optimistic. Said Jayathi Murthy, dean of UCLA Engineering, of discussions she and engineering faculty members had with Matheny, “We had very fruitful conversations on areas of mutual research interest where we are very strong — for example cybersecurity and  data science. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can cultivate these potential partnerships with IARPA.”

Recent work that can be traced back to IARPA includes a Microsoft partnership to create a smart mosquito trap for detecting Zika, automated speech transcription systems that work on rare languages, and diagnostics to detect an individual’s exposure to chemical weapons.

“It’s not just James Bond or Jason Bourne,” Matheny said. “It’s a lot more than that. The bulk of national security and national intelligence challenges we have are highly interdisciplinary. They involve public health and global development. They require an understanding of societies under stress, and what societies do when they respond to stress.”

“We depend on you all to come to us with proposals that we should have been smart enough to ask for,” he said. “There are so many areas of research that are unique to UCLA, so we hope there will be more opportunities to work with all of you.”

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