Arati Prabhakar: R&D For a Better World

On July 15, 2020, the Berggruen Institute was pleased to welcome Arati Prabhakar as a guest speaker for an internal discussion moderated by BI Executive Vice President, Dawn Nakagawa.

Arati has had a remarkably unique and multi-faceted career that speaks to her wide-ranging areas of expertise from engineering to venture capital to the social sciences. As director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), she led programs to rethink military systems, harnessed information to address national security challenges, and founded the Microsystems Technology Office. Following her time at DARPA, she went on to join the Berggruen Institute’s Fellowship Program at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (CASBS) where she says she emerged with “a much stronger conviction than ever” that developments in the social sciences offer an example of “what is possible in 2020.” These revelatory insights into the social sciences gathered from her time as a Berggruen Fellow, paired with her expertise in engineering, technological innovation, and the ecosystem of research and development (R&D), provided her with a new lens for understanding our rapidly evolving global society. Today, she is the CEO and founder of Actuate an organization working to apply the DARPA process of innovation to some of the biggest challenges of our time using big data and innovations in the social sciences.

In our conversation with Arati (available in its entirety on the Ideas Matter Podcast), she shared some of the challenges that she believes we, as a nation, are not prepared to meet: declining economic prosperity, a costly but ineffective healthcare system, and new threats to our democracy and national security interests. Despite these problems, the opportunities she sees emerging from research, innovation, and meaningful conversations, such as this one, give her reason to be optimistic about the future.

The ambitions of her project and her embrace of the need for radical new approaches are deeply aligned with the spirit of our work at the Berggruen Institute. She believes, as do we, that there is a massive opportunity just around the corner for a “generational advance that can happen in innovation.”

Find the full podcast plus highlight clips on our Youtube page.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.