IARPA in the News

Popular Science

Intelligence agencies, the spies and spooks and analysts grouped under three letter acronyms, exist in part to answer a difficult question that dates back to antiquity: Is it possible to predict the future, and, if so, how do we do it? A study published this month in the Journal of Experimental Psychology answers the question at least in part: Prediction is a skill, but it takes a special environment to develop that skill.

To understand how prediction works, researchers wanted to see if certain behaviors—such as making a lot of predictions, taking time to consider a question before answering it, or just having a working knowledge of politics in the region in question—effected a forecaster's accuracy.

For the experiment, participants competed in two nine-month-long forecasting tournaments. The questions for the tournament were selected by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. Over the two years of the tournament, the forecasters were each asked a total of 199 questions, which “covered topics ranging from whether North Korea would test a nuclear device between January 9, 2012, and April 1, 2012, to whether Moody’s would downgrade the sovereign debt rating of Greece between October 3, 2011, and November 30, 2011.” Forecasters had to answer at least 25 of the questions. The vast majority of the questions had just two possible outcomes, like if a certain embattled world leader would remain in power after a given date. Other questions asked forecasters to choose one time-frame among multiple choices for a possible future event. Participants answered the questions online.

IEEE Spectrum

Early in 2014, IEEE Spectrum teamed up with SciCast, the “Bayesian combinatorial prediction market” group based at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va. And when our January Top Tech 2015 issue hit the Web, IEEE Spectrum added something new to a few of its articles: the opportunity for readers to participate in IEEE Spectrum SciCast forecasting and match wits with experts by making their own predictions about the future of technology.

SciCast founders Robin Hanson, Kathryn Laskey, and Charles Twardy built the system to allow large numbers of forecasters (some 10,000 have signed on so far) to collectively prognosticate on technological progress. Initial support for SciCast came from the U.S. Intelligence Research Projects Activity.

IEEE Spectrum

A hardware Trojan is exactly what it sounds like: a small change to an integrated circuit that can disturb chip operation. With the right design, a clever attacker can alter a chip so that it fails at a crucial time or generates false signals. Or the attacker can add a backdoor that can sniff out encryption keys or passwords or transmit internal chip data to the outside world.

There’s good reason to be concerned. In 2007, a Syrian radar failed to warn of an incoming air strike; a backdoor built into the system’s chips was rumored to be responsible. Other serious allegations of added circuits have been made. And there has been an explosion in reports of counterfeit chips, raising questions about just how much the global supply chain for integrated circuits can be trusted....

A lot of research is still being devoted to understanding the scope of the problem. But solutions are already starting to emerge. In 2011, the United States’ Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) started a new program to explore ways to make trusted chips. As part of that program, our team at Stanford University, along with other research groups, is working on fundamental changes to the way integrated circuits are designed and manufactured.


Political forecasting is among the most vital roles played by the intelligence services: determining which country's government is most likely to collapse in the next few months, or whether a given nation has weapons of mass destruction that render them a threat. But what happens when there's no way to assess the quality of those forecasts – or the people making them?...

But the work of Philip Tetlock and his team at the Good Judgment Project – funded by the US government's Intelligence Advanced Research Project (Iarpa) – points to new ways of thinking about geopolitical forecasting, and the question of what makes a person better-equipped to predict world events. A few people, the project has revealed, have extraordinary talents for seeing the future – might you be one of them?


Humans are inherently bad at predicting the future. It’s a defect all too apparent in the corporate world, and in the business of managing complex geopolitics.

But some people have better track records than others, and the ways in which they think about questions and arrive at their projections offer clues as to how the rest of us might become more successful forecasters.

A group of researchers isolated these traits in a study tied to a geopolitical forecasting tournament arranged by an R&D group run by the US director of national intelligence. Five university-backed teams competed; they were asked to predict 199 world events, such as whether Syrian president Bashar al-Assad would remain in power, and whether North Korea would conduct another successful nuclear weapons test.

Discovery News

U.S. intelligence analysts who track terrorists, predict wars or anticipate revolutions get things right if they work together in teams rather than as individuals.

While that may seem obvious, a new study by academic researchers challenges some common practices of the U.S. intelligence community, where analysts specialize in one topic or region and send reports up the chain of command....

Part of the problem, according to the study's lead author Barbara Mellers, may be in the way these terror-hunters and political forecasters work together. Mellers and her colleagues ran a geopolitical prediction contest sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), an agency within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Participants were given a battery of psychological tests, and then asked 200 questions over two years: which foreign leaders would remain in power, whether certain political groups would take over, or even whether North Korea would launch another nuclear test.

Intelligence Community News

On January 12, IARPA posted a broad agency announcement (BAA) covering phases 2 and 3 of its HFGeo program. Proposals are due by February 20, 2015. Interested contractors should submit any questions by January 29, 2015.