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DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar Speaks at USC Viterbi

"DARPA strives to be more nimble in a world of rapid technological change."
By: Ryan Shaw
March 06, 2014 —

Before a capacity crowd at Ronald Tutor Hall's Ming Hsieh Board Room, Arati Prabhakar, director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), spoke on Feb. 5 of the agency’s success in using technology to protect the nation’s security.

In a wide-ranging talk that moved from cyberspace to outer space, Prabhakar spoke of how DARPA has employed Big Data in a variety of ways, including combating sex trafficking.

DARPA recently launched a program that helped law enforcement in Dallas track patterns of human trafficking by analyzing online sex ads. The analysis returned 600 phone numbers that were "centers for clusters of activity,” Prabhakar said. Law enforcement officials in Dallas were amazed to find that 466 of the 600 numbers were in fact linked to known human trafficking organizations.

The same information that took local law enforcement years of arduous data collection to obtain only took DARPA researchers a fraction of the time. Prabhakar hopes this same technology can be applied to international data to help national security.

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar spoke To USC students and faculty at Ronald Tutor Hall.

DARPA’s interest in technology goes beyond this world – literally.

The organization funds research aimed at lowering the cost of launching spaceships and other objects into space. Prabhakar said the reduced costs would dramatically increase the potential for space flight.

DARPA also wants to rethink satellites. Currently, satellites are clunky, expensive to launch, and difficult to upgrade once in orbit. Through DARPA funded research, satellites of the future will be smaller and have a longer space life, she said.

As space flights increase, the need for space traffic control centers will arise. DARPA, Prabhakar said, is on the cutting edge of space flight control center development and will be ready for the increased demand for space travel.

“Every day it’s an active exercise to make sure we’re pushing the boundaries,” she said.

DARPA has been on the cutting edge of research for decades and sponsors projects at USC and other prestigious universities. By making pivotal investments in new technology-driven ideas for the United States, DARPA imagines and makes possible new capabilities for overcoming the multifaceted threats and challenges that lie ahead, Prabhakar said.

As an organization and as a nation, Prabhakar added that the greatest threat is “becoming complacent.”