DARPA crowd guru gets a new lab

It’s been a little over two years since I came back to the tech private sector from my government service, and it’s great when we have other folks take the same path, for it improves the knowledge of each side about the other. Today we’re announcing that Peter Lee, currently the leader of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Activity’s innovative Transformational Convergence Technology Office (TCTO), is joining Microsoft to run the mighty flagship Redmond labs of Microsoft Research.

People inside Microsoft have been asking me, “What’s Peter like? What’s he been doing at DARPA?” I’ll let him answer those questions: when you have the time, check out this fascinating hour-long video from earlier this year of Peter talking about his work at DARPA to a group of University of Washington graduate students. You’ll not only get an engaging explanation of DARPA’s past and future work – including trends in technology democratization, supercomputing, cybersecurity, and open innovation – but you’ll also understand what a great rapport Peter has with fellow scientists.

Peter’s a great guy, a brilliant computer scientist (former head of the CS Department at Carnegie-Mellon), and a recent chair of the Computing Research Association (CRA) – the leading association of hundreds of North American academic departments of computer science and computer engineering; laboratories and centers in industry, government, and academia engaging in basic computing research; and affiliated professional societies.  I can attest that he’s internationally known and respected for his passionate interest and energy in pursuing excellence in computing research and education.

Peter wrote eloquently about his decision to join DARPA a year ago on his personal blog – and though he was there for only a short time, he made a great impact, giving the new TCTO a unique image, as the “Innovators among innovators.” His efforts were beginning to live up to the expansive “Re-Envisioning DARPA” project he led at CRA with Randy Katz of UC-Berkeley a couple of years ago (read their incisive report here – pdf).

WIRED Magazine today published online a laudatory story about Peter’s move (“DARPA’s Crowdsourcer-in-Chief Bolts for Microsoft“), not surprising since WIRED and the geek-press widely covered TCTO’s crowd-sourcing (and crowd-pleasing) Network Challenge “Red-Balloons” effort last year. I’m really psyched that he’s going to bring that same blend of new ideas and energy to Microsoft Research.

And don’t worry about DARPA… another great guy, Dan Kaufman, will be covering Peter’s work after he leaves. Dan gave WIRED a really inspired quote today about his plan to continue Peter’s unconventional approach: ”We’ll also set up a big community of war fighters chatting about what they really freakin’ need — and developers get to jump in and say, ‘Hey, I can do that.’”

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