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By Invitation | Technology
The bosses of Britain’s new research agency explain its innovations
Ambition, risk and the deployment of top talent will underpin ARIA, say Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford

Aug 11th 2022



Scientific discovery drives technological change that leads humans to flourish. The good news is that the world is training more scientists and funding more research than ever before. The bad news is that, despite this, scientific productivity seems to be slowing down.

Scientific papers abound—in recent years as many as 7m were published annually—but a shrinking fraction represent real breakthroughs. Increasingly, Nobel prizes recognise discoveries made decades ago. And in the many fields where we can objectively measure progress, such as in improving crop yields or discovering new drugs, steady advance demands exponentially more resources.

What is going on? Has the universe of knowledge grown so vast that we are doomed to accept diminishing returns from scientific research?

We don’t think so. We see an enormous opportunity to accelerate progress by unleashing the full potential of the world’s scientific talent. In leading the UK’s new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (aria) from August 15th, we will liberate the best scientific minds to work on the most important problems with the right support and resources. Of course, excellent work is already being done and funded today. But if we want to see a radical acceleration of scientific progress, we need radical institutional innovation in science.

We know that this kind of innovation can unlock extraordinary results. The Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 was so shocking that it prompted America to create a new kind of r&d institution: arpa (now darpa). Its founding mission was to create technological surprises but prevent technological surprise. darpa has had extraordinary success. The internet, mrna vaccines and gps all have their origins in darpa’s research. What has made the agency work? Above all else, is empowerment of brilliant people. darpa hired a director, who in turn hired visionary and unusual programme managers (PMs). PMs were free to fund projects that often looked crazy or impractical, as the internet did in the 1960s. A tolerance for taking high risks, minimal bureaucracy, and a flat structure have been darpa’s tenets.

darpa was created as a specific solution to a specific problem. Our goal is not to clone it, but to recognise the power of its model. Technological surprises are what we need to ensure society is prepared for emergent threats, from climate change to pandemics. The need for breakthrough technology is more urgent than ever. That is why we need a new agency now.

aria is a rare opportunity to create a new kind of research agency that, like darpa, creates transformational technologies decades ahead of its time. The UK has an extraordinary density of scientific and technological talent. It is home to a disproportionate number of the world’s best universities. And its burgeoning startup sector has created over 40 “unicorns” (private companies worth more than $1bn) across sectors ranging from biotech to semiconductors.

These assets, coupled with aria’s structure and freedoms, are a remarkable foundation to build on. The British government has created an organisation that is ambitious, independent and backed by £800m in funding by 2025-26. The task now is to shape its vision and initial focus. We know we don’t have all the answers. Our goal is to collaborate with and amplify the existing science and technology ecosystem, not bypass it. We’ll kick off our work in the autumn with a series of roundtables to get input from the research community on aria’s design and plans.

While we have much to learn and decide, we know that a few principles will be at the heart of aria’s work, mission, and ethos.

First, aria will be ambitious in everything it does. We will fund nothing incremental or cosmetic. We want aria to be synonymous with bold visions and radical ideas. We want to look back decades from now and say that the technologies which stemmed from aria had at least as much impact as those born at darpa over the past 64 years. We will be proactive in sharing what we learn and allowing others to build upon it, so that aria’s impact is amplified around the world.

Second, aria will take real risks. We will seek out extraordinary projects that might otherwise fall into the cracks between existing funding options. Many of these projects will fail. Those with the greatest impact are likely to take many years to bear fruit. We will create a governance system that embraces these realities, while holding aria to the highest standards and ensuring that it is a good steward of taxpayers’ money.

Third, and above all, aria will live or die by its ability to attract, activate and amplify the success of exceptional people. As two professionals who have built careers backing talented individuals early and supporting them to achieve extraordinary things, we want this to be at the heart of everything we do. It is also the principle by which we will build our own team.

We are optimists. A future of flourishing humans with astonishing capabilities on a thriving planet is within reach. The people who have what it takes to make the breakthroughs we need are out there. aria’s job is to empower them. ■

Matt Clifford is aria’s chairman and Ilan Gur its chief executive officer. Mr Clifford is also the chief executive and co-founder of Entrepreneur First, a British firm which supports startups and their founders.

应邀参加 | 技术








aria是一个难得的机会,可以创建一个新的研究机构,像darpa一样,创造出领先时代几十年的变革性技术。英国拥有非常密集的科学和技术人才。它拥有数量众多的世界上最好的大学。其蓬勃发展的创业部门已经创造了40多个 "独角兽"(价值超过10亿美元的私人公司),涉及从生物技术到半导体的各个领域。



首先,"咏叹调 "将对其所做的一切充满雄心。我们不会资助任何渐进式或表面化的工作。我们希望 "咏叹调 "成为大胆设想和激进想法的代名词。我们希望在几十年后回首往事时,能说源于阿里亚的技术至少与过去64年在达尔帕诞生的技术一样具有影响力。我们将积极主动地分享我们所学到的知识,并允许其他人在此基础上再接再厉,从而使aria的影响力在全世界得到放大。




马特-克利福德是阿瑞雅的董事长,伊兰-古尔是其首席执行官。Clifford先生也是Entrepreneur First的首席执行官和联合创始人,这是一家支持初创企业及其创始人的英国公司。
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