DARPA will use crowdsourcing to help verify that weapons software will work as intended.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

November 22, 2011

3 Min Read

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The Department of Defense wants to create computer games that will crowdsource the complex process of verifying software for weapons systems.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the DOD's research arm, through a project called Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV), aims to provide a "fun" way for the public to take part in software verification, a software engineering process to ensure an application satisfies its requirements, according to an agency announcement posted on FedBizOpps.gov.

"Currently, formal program verification is not widely practiced due to high costs and the fact that fundamental program verification problems resist automation," according to DARPA. "This is particularly an issue for the Department of Defense because formal verification, while a proven method for reducing defects in software, currently requires highly specialized talent and cannot be scaled to the size of software found in modern weapon systems."

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The way DARPA sees it, if software verification was turned into a computer game that was fun for anyone to play, it could test the properties of software on a wider audience to ensure it will achieve its desired outcomes, according to the announcement.

One of the goals of CSFV--which "picks up at a point where the formal verification tool needs human assistance"--is to come up with ways to automatically transform formal software verification problems into end-user games people can play.

The games will generate solutions that will populate a database and be mapped back into annotations that can help a formal verification tool verify a software property, according to DARPA.

The federal government increasingly is turning to crowdsourcing as a way to save money and widen the expert pool to solve complex technology problems rather than paying experts to do so.

DARPA is one of the leading agencies to embrace crowdsourcing, and has used some rather innovative methods to do so. The agency recently held a contest to crowdsource designs for a next-generation combat vehicle, and currently is crowdsourcing methods for reconstructing shredded documents--such as those found in military engagements that may be used for intelligence purposes--through a Shredder Challenge.

DARPA will hold an industry day Dec. 8 in Menlo Park, Calif., to discuss its plans for CSFV and identify those potentially interested in making proposals for the program.

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