Why This Scientist Said No to DARPA

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

Meet the Carnegie Mellon University robotics scientist who has weaned himself off military money—who says that colleagues are quietly contemplating the same decision:

[Illah] Nourbakhsh resolved to refuse all military money and choose to work only on the most positive research work he could find. "I wanted to feel I was working on something with immediate social-positive impact, rather than something neutral that could be used for good or ill later…I want to be able to say I've done some good in the world...It is hard to get millions from any other source, plus you have a far better chance of winning DARPA grants than others."

In the last few years, Nourbakhsh has noticed a change. While no one really cared about his refusal of Pentagon money when he was a graduate student, he is starting to make waves as a professor.

He tells how several colleagues have quietly come up to him to say, "We are watching you. If you pull this off for several years, we may well do the same." He ends our talk by saying, "I'm a guinea pig and that makes me more firmly resolved to prove that it's possible."

Posted in Policy