Hack for Defense bridges tech and military

May 5, 2015, 12:34 p.m.

Hack for Defense is an organization that serves as a platform to connect the Pentagon, Silicon Valley and Stanford University in order to solve some of the most pressing problems in national security.

The initiative began as a collaboration between BMC, a company specializing in business service management, members within the government, and the Preventive Defense Project at Stanford, headed by Ash Carter and Bill Perry.

Although the program is currently in a pilot stage, the success of the initiative holds great potential for the future of national defense.

“The Pentagon recognizes that the gap is closing between our military and that of our allies and enemies in terms of technology,” said Lauren McCune ’15, one of the main student collaborators for Hack for Defense. “It’s super important to figure out how to harness that new and exciting technology that is here in Silicon Valley, and how to use that for national security purposes.”

According to Crystal Lee ’15, lead analyst for the most current iteration of Hack for Defense, the initiative marks the intersectionality between academia and industry.

“Solving problems in national security requires the private and public sector to work together, and Hack for Defense is really the first attempt to try to simplify that connection,” Lee said.

One problem within the military is clean water supply, a project that Lee is currently working on. “If you’re thinking about a theater like bases in Iraq or Afghanistan, getting water to a military base is a pretty hefty task…it’s a huge technological challenge that the military faces,” Lee said.

That’s where Hack for Defense comes in. The project meets with military leaders who have served in the field to refine the most urgent problems within the military. Next, the program identifies major companies within Silicon Valley that specialize in that field in order to create relevant and useful products to address the issue.

Members of the Stanford community play a role in creating this platform between government and industry, especially because of the university’s location and student body.

“I think Stanford is really well placed to bridge the gap between technology and policy,” Lee said, “as an institution that has such a prolific number of students who are interested in computer science and engineering; it’s shortsighted to think of these fields as policy-free. There are so many applicable uses for so many of the technologies being developed and many have these connections in government.”

Currently, there are many Stanford undergraduate and graduate students who are involved in the initiative program. Additionally, the program is using many of Stanford’s resources to facilitate its goals.  “Stanford is very much on point for this whole mission,” McCune said. “[The program] is utilizing all of our different assets; for example, the product realization lab, all of our alternative energy resource facilities, and the grad students especially here at the GSB who are veterans.”

Contact Stephanie Zhang at szhang3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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