DARPA Launching Next Generation Social Engineering

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Broad Agency Announcement Next Generation Social Science (NGS2)

Defense Sciences Office DARPA-BAA-16-32 March 18, 2016

The explosive growth of global digital connectivity has opened new possibilities for designing and conducting social science research. Once limited by practical constraints to experiments involving just a few dozen participants-often university students or other easily available groups-or to correlational studies of large datasets without any opportunity for determining causation, scientists can now engage thousands of diverse volunteers online and explore an expanded range of important topics and questions.

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The Introduction

The Defense Sciences Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting innovative research proposals to build a new capability (methods, models, tools, and a community of researchers) to perform rigorous, reproducible experimental research at scales necessary to understand emergent properties of human social systems. DARPA anticipates that the Next Generation Social Science (NGS2) program may require a fundamental re-imagining of the social science research cycle and encourages participation from a wide and diverse combination of disciplines and skill sets – to include social sciences, but also physics, computer science, biology, game design, mathematics, and others. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in incremental improvements to the existing state of practice.

Performers in the NGS2 program will work to determine fundamental measures and causal mechanisms that explain and predict the emergence of “collective identities.” A focus on “what matters most” for emergent social phenomena like collective identity presents an important and complex challenge to focus and validate new NGS2 research communities, tools, and methods. Note that while the NGS2 program will focus on collective identity formation as an exemplar research question, DARPA anticipates that successful NGS2 capabilities will have benefits for tackling other complex problems and topics, including (but not limited to): resilience in social networks and structures, changes in cultural norms or beliefs, emergence of cooperation/competitions, social influences on preferences and cognition, etc.

How The Research Will Be Performed

Performance in the NGS2 program will occur in one of three categories: End-to-End (ETE), Enablers, and Test & Evaluation (T&E). As described below, performers in the first two categories will focus on research and development and the third will perform independent testing and evaluation. Proposers may submit abstracts and proposals in any of these three categories. However, to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest between development and T&E, proposers participating on a T&E submission may not participate on an Enabler or ETE team submission (See Section III.D for further information.). Proposers must specify the category to which they are applying on their submission cover sheet(s).

ETE: One or more complete multidisciplinary teams executing an end-to-end research approach that addresses each of the TAs described below. These teams are expected to engage in multiple cycles of modeling, hypothesis generation, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and reevaluation beginning in Phase 1 and continuing through Phase 2.

Enablers: Smaller, targeted efforts to develop and test new or early stage high-risk, highpayoff “enabling” technologies in one or more of the TAs. At the end of Phase 1, this second category of performer should enable some new capability (e.g., greater speed, more rigor, higher transparency, more dynamic informed consent, larger numbers of participants) and be poised for integration into a complete end-to-end approach. Proposals in this category must detail the unique enabling technical or methodical approach to be developed in regard to: the next generation research capability made possible by the proposed approach; the feasibility of achieving this goal during Phase 1; and the effort required for maturation, including a risk reducing technical development plan with clear progress milestones. Proposers should also illustrate how they anticipate the enabling approach integrating with, and thereby impacting, Phase 2 research cycles.

T&E: A single team responsible for assisting the Government with testing and evaluation of the other performers’ programmatic and technical progress towards NGS2 goals. Proposers in DARPA-BAA-16-32/NGS2 BAA 6 this category must have demonstrated experience supporting scientific experimentation, diverse collaboration and evaluation of the accuracy of experimental predictions. They must also have a history of effectively interacting with multiple research communities, including the social sciences, to help advance multidisciplinary, reproducible research in line with NGS2 goals. Proposers should discuss their capabilities in managing experiment registration, innovative forecasting and prediction platforms, engagement with appropriate scientific publications for registered reports1 of performer protocols as a form of early peer review, and providing consultation, infrastructure support, and collaboration enhancement across scientific teams and geographies. In addition to these activities, the T&E team will provide feedback to the ETE and Enabler performers and DARPA on plans and reports, assist DARPA with program research, and provide overarching documentation of program progress, implementation, and outcomes. As directed by DARPA, the T&E team will also help support transition of successful program products to DoD partners as well as the wider social science research community.


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Christopher Kemmett

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