Maximizing the impact of new technologies requires creating new systems, not just components. To be impactful, the lightbulb needed electrification, steam engines needed trains, and creating fertilizer from air required entire plants devoted to the Haber-Bosch process. They couldn’t just swap out a piece of an existing system. Speculative Technologies' model has been designed to create those systems.
Our model is based on the US Government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA is perhaps the most consistently successful organization at enabling this systems research: they are arguably responsible for the internet, personal computing, autonomous cars, mRNA vaccines, and so much more. The replicable core of their model (the ARPA model) revolves around empowered program leads and coordinated research programs.
Our model revolves around program leads with deep technical expertise and a clear vision of capabilities that don’t yet exist along with a technology that can enable them. We help them roadmap out what needs to happen in order to create that technology and then empower them to coordinate projects across several organizations towards that single goal.
Coordinated Research Programs
Our program leads run three- to five-year research programs composed of several projects across multiple organizations. Each successful program goes through three major stages: program design, proof-of-concept experiments, and then the main program itself.
The program leads don’t just pick projects — they actively make sure everybody is working towards a single system.
Running a number of parallel projects in different organizations has several advantages: it allows us to leverage much more expertise and equipment than we could bring in house; it enables us to explore several competing approaches in parallel; and it enables us to spin up and spin down projects quickly.
Creating Public Goods
We are embracing the nature of speculative technology research to end up as a public good and using a permissive licensing stack. It’s incredibly hard to capture the value of exploratory technology research and trying to capture that value often hamstrings the work itself. Imagine if Bell Labs had tried to keep the transistor to themselves: it might have been used for nothing except under-sea signal amplification and Moore’s law may have never been started.
Private Organizations have more institutional Flexibility
We’re a private organization, despite the fact that many view public-goods-oriented research as the role of government. Government research is important, but faces a fundamental tension: we want representative governments to be responsible but in order to do great research you need to be a bit irresponsible (we do try to be as responsible as possible!) A private organization can move faster than the government and can innovate in ways that government organizations cannot.