Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, June 30, 2022

New DARPA Director Brings AI Expertise 

The Pentagon’s top research agency is extending its technology chops with the appointment of a new director with extensive industry experience in strategic sectors ranging from AI to underlying microelectronics.

The Defense Department announced Monday (Aug. 31) that Victoria Coleman has been named the new director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Coleman arrives as DARPA assumes a leading role in reviving U.S. semiconductor manufacturing via its Electronic Resurgence Initiative (ERI), along with a growing list of cutting-edge AI research efforts.

Along with extensive industry experience, Coleman has close ties to the U.S. military, serving since 2015 on both DARPA’s Microsystems Exploratory Board as well as the Defense Science Board. She was also a member of the technology advisory board at Lockheed Martin Corp., among the nation’s largest defense contractors.

In February 2019, Coleman was named CEO of Atlas AI, which focuses on data analytics for remote sensing. She has also held executive positions at the former Hewlett-Packard, where she oversaw its webOS platform, and wireless telecommunications vendor Nokia.

Coleman’s industry resume also includes stints at Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics and SRI International

The new DARPA director earned a doctorate in computer science at the University of Manchester in the late 1980s and lectured at the University of London for nearly a decade before working in industry for the last two decades. She also served as a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, most recently as an adviser to the school’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, which focuses on developing sustainable technologies.

“During this era of great power competition, DARPA is critical to strengthening the U.S. military’s technological dominance and advancing innovations that benefit our warfighters,” Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in announcing Coleman’s appointment.

Indeed, the agency is the forefront of efforts to match China’s well-funded efforts to develop new AI technologies as well as initiatives aimed at securing U.S. technology supply chains as geopolitical and economic tensions grow.

“U.S. leadership in microelectronics is essential to U.S. leadership in artificial intelligence,” Gilman Louie, a member of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, told a recent DARPA conference. Maintaining the lead in AI hardware requires “technical feats only DARPA would attempt.”

Coleman replaces Steven Walker, who stepped down in January. Peter Highnam, DARPA’s acting director since Walker’s departure, will serve as Coleman’s deputy.

Coleman becomes the third woman to direct DARPA, overseeing an annual budget of about $3.5 billion.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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