T2 Touchpoint — November 20, 2019

T2 Touchpoint News

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Budget Bulletin

House Appropriators to Discuss Latest Energy R&D Spending Levels Today

Today the House-Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing to discuss the Department of Energy’s (DOE) climate change strategy, as well as other energy research and development (R&D) efforts. This meeting, which includes witnesses like the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, will expand on the energy R&D investments we’ve deliberated on in past reportage, including major R&D bills for solar, wind, and fossil fuel power sources. The House has already passed spending legislation echoing similar funding increases for fiscal year (FY) 2020.

This discussion follows similar talks in the Senate. Energy-Water Subcommittee Chair Lamar Alexander has gone on record in support of doubling energy R&D spending over a five-year period. Final budgetary levels for DOE will be deliberated as the federal budget allocations continue. For now, the federal budget for FY 2020 non-defense spending has been increased, so future DOE budget hikes could be very feasible.

The webcast recording for this hearing is accessible here.

Spending Stopgap Is Extended to December 20

In October, we reported that the government was maintaining FY 2019 spending levels to avoid a government shutdown in November. As the deadline to finalize FY 2020 funding is this week, Congress voted on a stopgap package to extend the deadline to December 20. President Trump subsequently signed a continuing resolution to retain FY 2019 spending levels for at least four more weeks.

Policy Pulse

In International News, China Sets Sights on 6G Communications Technology

While American artificial intelligence (AI) research efforts wrestle with the power of 5G telecommunications technology and weigh its implications for severe weather forecasting, China has made initial steps toward reviewing and implementing the 6G band. China has already led the charge toward widespread 5G implementation, but their telecommunications providers, including Huawei, have received bans from American government contracts. Nevertheless, Chinese 6G development efforts are subdivided into two groups: one is for government departments and subsequent technological application, and the other is a conglomerate of 37 academic and research centers to provide pertinent insight and R&D opportunities.

In the United States, 6G development has been sparse, but researchers at Virginia Tech have received federal funding to advance domestic research in the technology. The Virginia Tech team has conjectured that while 5G is essential to AI development, as well as widespread adoption of other leading-edge tech like the internet of things (IoT), 6G will advance robotics systems, drones, and virtual reality programs at a transfer rate of one terabyte (TB) of data per second.

Discovering the Defense Innovation Board’s Five Key Ethical AI Principles

The Defense Innovation Board (DIB) has finally laid out its ethical framework for AI technology and implementation. As we reported last October, the DIB advises Defense Secretary Mattis and the Department of Defense (DoD)—including the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)—to spearhead and safeguard American defense innovation and entrepreneurship. The Board, with its private and public implications for national security and prosperity, is comprised of both scientific and business leaders to better apply an interdisciplinary approach to government technology. Most importantly, while the DIB is an independent body and therefore cannot directly implement technological changes, it can recommend such advancements.

Given that the DIB’s principles are recommendations and not federally regulated standards, they still offer a high-level framework for military usage of this technology, while also addressing AI’s growing pains.

  1. While AI systems automate human cognition by way of concepts like machine learning, humans must still use judgment and discretion when developing, deploying and using these technologies. The outcomes of each use should be monitored and adjusted according to overall performance.
  2. Bias should be avoided in the development of these systems to avoid harming human operators.
  3. AI engineering processes within military agencies should be well-defined, and those following them should be properly trained in the development cycle and operational methods, including data sources, design procedures, and applicable documentation.
  4. Across AI system life cycles, the security, safety, and robustness of each should be tested, monitored, and reinforced through an explicit domain of use.
  5. AI systems should be designed to perform their intended function while also employing detection systems to disable escalatory, harmful, or destructive behavior.

Agency Activities

National Science and Technology Foundation Proposed

Earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed the creation of the National Science and Technology Foundation while speaking at the National Security Commission on AI. This potential foundation would fund R&D efforts in AI, quantum information science, robotics, and 5G telecommunications. While this proposal is still being drafted, Schumer envisions the foundation would nest under the National Science Foundation (NSF) and work closely with another federal research hub, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Initial funding for this project would be a five-year lump sum of $100 billion. This budget would be divided between universities, the federal sector, and private industry.

Whether the Foundation would be dissolved after its five-year period or its funding expires is unknown. Schumer, instead, claims the Foundation is spearheading what he refers to as “pure, fundamental” research that private funding can no longer viably provide. After naming Bell Labs as the last privately-held champion of pure research, Schumer suggests “what we need to do is have the federal government have a dramatically increased investment in AI, in the basic research, in the pure research that companies won’t do.” To successfully stand this operation up, bipartisan support of the proposal will be strongly needed when it’s released. More on this development as updates arrive.

DC Dispatch