Category: Global Security

Ethics, Technology, and the Future of War

In June of 2015, The US Army Research Laboratory released a paper entitled Visualizing the Tactical Ground Battlefield in the Year 2050: Workshop Report. In it, the ARL identified seven interrelated capabilities they thought would set the future battlefield scenario apart from the current one. The items they uncovered were: augmented humans; automated decision-making and autonomous processes; misinformation as a weapon; micro-targeting; large-scale self-organization and collective decision-making; cognitive modeling of the opponent; and the ability to understand and cope in a contested, imperfect information environment.  Two things these seven items have in common are the steady march toward Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation, and the desire to integrate a “human-in-the-loop” with each one of these emerging technologies.

With greater intelligence and autonomy comes the need to discuss and debate how these new technologies may alter the way in which we, as human beings, think about the future of war and security. Purdue University is celebrating its sesquicentennial in 2019 with a year-long Ideas Festival focused on major topics at the intersection of technology and society. Discovery Park is contributing to the Ideas Festival and tackling these important questions of our time by hosting thought provoking conferences such as our Ethics, Technology, and the Future of War and Security Symposium.

On May 14, as part of Purdue’s 150th Anniversary Ideas Festival, Discovery Park had the honor of welcoming experts from across the country and from industry, academia, and government to discuss the ethical, legal, and social implications of a cyber-, autonomous tech- and AI-driven war. Through wide-ranging panel discussions punctuated by thought-provoking keynote addresses, the sphere of future warfare and security was dissected and discussed. The general tone was recognition of the inevitability of advancement, but tempered by the idea that this technology must have the seeds of ethics and morality sown deep into the soil of development. Speakers and panelists concurred in the hope that these advanced technologies may be used to make future wars more humane and even preventable.  Inherent in this vision is the knowledge that a truly global conversation and robust debate is essential to define now the rules and boundaries of future wars. How will different cultures interpret the social, ethical and legal issues that arise from a fully autonomous, AI-driven society capable of waging war and compromising an adversary’s security by these means?

As we have discussed often in the pages of this blog, the United States is in what arguably might be one of the most difficult and consequential technology races of its history. Great power competitors and other state and non-state actors alike are all making great use of today’s global technology race to advantage their economic and national security, sometimes in ways that might be considered abhorrent by liberal democracies the world over.

An overriding theme was that the problems we’re facing aren’t new, but technology is forcing us to look at them through a different, modern lens.  The rules of war haven’t changed, but the tools of war have, which requires an in-depth global conversation about ethics, morality, and law.  

Patrick Wolfe, Frederick Hovde Dean of the College of Sciences at Purdue opened the symposium by reminding the audience that AI-related algorithms have been around for over forty years. However, it is only in the last decade that the fusion of these algorithms with low-cost, high performance commodity computing and massive amounts of data from an ever growing number of ubiquitous sensors and internet-connected devices has made the current exponential expansion in the application of AI to societal concerns a reality. He warned, however, that the current set of algorithms is largely evolutionary relative to those of the 1970’s, which were designed to be rather opaque, and are indeed rather primitive still. Much progress is needed if AI is to be trusted as a decision-making augmentation capability for consequential human endeavors beyond picking a book or a movie online, such as for example, waging war.

Paul Scharre, author of Army of None, was on hand to provide history on the rise of autonomous weapons and posed two critical questions: Are autonomous weapons illegal? Are autonomous weapons ultimately destabilizing? The answers, as you can imagine, are not cut and dried. Scharre points to the historical precedent for banning certain weapons of war and, makes a compelling case for autonomous weapons undermining stability, pointing out that runaway autonomous weapons have the capacity to push nations to the brink.  Ultimately, it boils down to policy-making and rule-setting, and we are already behind the curve.

Author and strategist P.W. Singer had a different take on security, providing insight into the cyber-threat and pulling information presented in his book, Like War. He stated, “We live in a world where virality trumps veracity,” explaining that in this modern, digital age, where currency is the number of likes and shares instead of dollars and cents, the truth is often buried beneath layer upon layer of lies. “Coughing in everyone’s face,” — spreading untruths through shares, knowingly or unknowingly — is the modern plague.

“The best way to prevent a great power war is to be prepared to win one,” stated Robert Work, former Deputy Secretary of Defense.  While claiming that the United States will not back fully autonomous weapons, but will instead a human-in-the-loop in the decision making process, he reiterated the importance of robotics, AI, and autonomy. He noted that increasingly sophisticated narrow AI systems incorporated into a Third Offset Strategies will be vital to the defense of the nation, and that the U.S. must lead the way without hesitation.  Advanced AI as an augmentation tool, not as a human replacement, is a critical element in both the preparation and the deterrence of war.

Heather Roff, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and a Nonresident Fellow for Security and Strategy at the Brookings Institution, asserted that there are many wide-ranging ethical problems that come with using AI in warfare and even outside the warfare arena. She shared an example from a military personnel point of view: AI could analyze a constant stream of soldiers’ physical and mental health data to promote, deploy, or otherwise discriminate among categories of individuals in a manner that could easily be inherently biased.  These potential biases and their effects on the individuals should be carefully investigated and considered.

The capstone of this conference was the keynote speech from Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. Director Coats reiterated the need for research and advancement of AI, but cautioned that the United States is not the only player on the field, and our greatest adversaries are making tremendous strides in advancing these technologies, and focusing foreign influence campaigns against our liberal democracy and the American people.  They seek to undermine the freedoms of U.S. citizens, but the U.S. intelligence community is well positioned to counter these attacks. One of six initiatives created by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is the hiring of “a right, trusted, and agile workforce,” to ensure the U.S. intelligence community remains the best in the world. He also stated there is currently underway an unprecedented reach to private industry and academia to partner on crucial Intelligence issues.  Purdue University is stepping up to be a critical contributor to this mission, and to provide the cross-disciplinary expertise required by the U.S. intelligence community. 

Purdue has long been a proponent of interdisciplinary research of the type that drives this discussion of science, engineering, and society. The mission of the Purdue Policy Research Institute (PPRI), which co-hosted this event is to foster high-impact, interdisciplinary research to solve wicked problems. As a part of this symposium, the PPRI hosted an open-call essay competition to provide an opportunity for students from across all disciplines to consider the topic at hand and provide a creative take on their own perspectives. The winners of the competition were Jessica Eise, Purdue University Communication student, who submitted a creative writing piece that describes a potential outcome of a crucial programming error; Kevin Schieman, University of Notre Dame Philosophy student, who submitted an opinion piece on embracing values when developing autonomous weapons policy; and Muriel Eaton, Purdue University Medicinal Chemical Molecular Pharmacology student, who provided a fictional podcast made to sound like a recording for a time capsule.

Interestingly, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently unveiled principles for the innovative and trustworthy development and application of artificial intelligence. For nearly a year, the Trump administration worked closely with OECD partners and standards are now set amongst member democracies that are practical, flexible, and value-based.  The OECDs current recommendations on privacy, digital security and responsible business conduct are now buoyed by these new standards in this rapidly-evolving field. This commitment from the United States and the OECD member countries to priorities like removing barriers to innovation and discovery, prioritizing long-term R&D, building the AI workforce, and fostering public trust are consistent with the discussions and finding of the conference, and precisely what’s needed to further and rapidly advance responsibly in this critical arena.

Please stay tuned for more information as we will soon be posting a video link to our Symposium on Ethics, Technology, and the Future of War and Security and encourage you to hear for yourself what the experts have to say. As Director Coats, Secretary Work and others said, the United States must ensure that we have the most qualified and best trained workforce to serve our national security, and that we retain technological superiority over our adversaries at all time. Purdue is leading the way!

Cybersecurity in an Evolving World

Breaches in cybersecurity are so common that we’re becoming numb to the latest “attack-of-the-day” news stories. Complacency and turning a blind eye to the threats in our homes and all around us is not the answer to the growing problem of cybersecurity. Consider that a successful hack has already been demonstrated on a pacemaker; the influx of simple, weakly-defended IoT devices, not to mention vital equipment and services such as infusion pumps, utility companies with aging infrastructures, wearables, and connected vehicles all provide fuel for life-changing and, indeed, life-threatening attacks. At the discovery of the infamous Stuxnet computer worm nearly two decades ago, The Economist magazine declared it “a new kind of cyber-attack.” Now “new” isn’t remotely an adequate adjective and doesn’t even begin to describe the threats we face today — this is the challenge we’re up against.    

Potentially life-changing technology has crept stealthily into our everyday lives, and hardly a day goes by without a story in the news about a data breach, hacking, or spying. Facial recognition, voice recognition, security cameras, sensors, and connected appliances — all the imagined technology of the science fiction cartoons, TV shows, and movies of the 60s and 70s — are coming to pass and now we’re left having to deal with not only the benefits of, but also the problems of a connected society.  So, what is to be done about it? What is to be done when the threat of having a nation state hack a national election or take down a power grid is a very real possibility? How do we stay one step ahead of the hackers, and is it even possible?  As systems become more abstract and less physical, the scope of trying to prevent a breach must change, and the opponent must be met on their playing field. If it is an arms race to artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and quantum information, likewise it is an arms race to defend it.

In a utopian society, The Internet of Things would provide a feedback loop to ensure the ultimate in customer satisfaction, efficiency, and security.  We, however, do not live in a utopian society and the unnoticed but ultimately gaping, exploitable chasms in the fabric of IoT have been pounced upon like a lion hunting an antelope. The tiniest hole, the most miniscule aberration in code becomes a pathway to allow nefarious activity to ensue.  Like it or not, our lives are out there and they’re vulnerable, and by all accounts, it’s getting worse.  Patches and updates aren’t the answer. Systems must be built with security baked in, not provided by firewalls and add-ons installed after the fact. With that, systems become too cumbersome and every new application or piece of hardware becomes a potential entry point. With the proliferation of cloud computing services, organizations that host other companies’ data will find themselves vulnerable to the hacker’s idea of economy of scale.  Why bother with a desktop computer when you can leverage an entire cloud’s worth of data for profit?

There are multiple challenges to overcome.  It seems to have become human nature to automatically click on links. Therefore, one challenge is education and, along with that, awareness of social engineering strategies; education of the general public as to the schemes and advances of the cybercriminals, the compelling ways they get you to bypass common sense and click on that enticing link and share your information. Ransomware is the bane of cybersecurity and IT professionals and although random ransomware attacks are down in general, targeted, focused attacks still make the news.  Holding data hostage is a particularly egregious type of extortion — the potential impact is mind-boggling, and many organizations still don’t have a reliable, responsive disaster recovery solution. 

Lest you think it is all doom and gloom, there are significant bright spots on the horizon, not the least of which is the Annual CERIAS Cybersecurity Summit here at Purdue. The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS) is one of the world’s leading centers for research and education in areas of information security that are crucial to the protection of critical computing and communication infrastructure. Its multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving includes faculty from six colleges and more than 20 departments across the Purdue campus. As one of the important events in the cyber security/infosec world, the annual CERIAS Cybersecurity Summit on April 9-10 attracts participants from all over the country for two days dedicated to all things information security.  Ray Rothrock, CEO of RedSeal, Inc. kicks off the list of distinguished speakers with his keynote on Digital Resilience.  Panel discussions on such topics as artificial intelligence, sustainability, space exploration, and health and longevity feed into Purdue University’s 150th Anniversary Celebration theme of “Giant Leaps.” 

David Ebert, Interim Director of CERIAS and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, commented on the upcoming symposium, stating “This will be the 21st CERIAS Symposium and the importance of security and trusted information over the past twenty years has greatly increased. Trustable, reliable information is extremely important in the development and all of the application uses of AI/ML – humans need to understand the factors leading to the advice from these algorithms and make sure there is no bias in how the algorithms were trained.”  Ebert continues, “Cybersecurity and trusted information affects and integrates research across campus and disciplines including trusted microelectronics, secure and trusted systems with parts from across the globe, autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, as well as social and behavioral sciences and ethics.”  The takeaway is that cybersecurity is no longer an ethereal problem of the future, it’s a very real threat that has the capacity to touch every aspect of everyone’s life. As a result, it is the cross-disciplinary research efforts of institutions like Purdue that will ultimately level the playing field between the desire for a useful, safe, connected environment and those trying to destroy it.

One area of Purdue excellence in security is privacy-enhancing technologies, and its importance is growing. For instance, blockchain technology has spread rapidly through finance and supply chains as an efficient, secure traceability mechanism, and Purdue leads the efforts toward improving its privacy. A blockchain is a distributed and replicated ledger of all transactions, where transactions are ordered in a form of a chain. Each ledger entry (block) can only be created after solving a time-consuming cryptography puzzle (also known as proof of work) before it is appended to the ledger, preventing adversaries from altering already-added blocks to the chain. However, all of the blockchain transactions are publicly known, and access control and privacy compliance is a huge concern. Over the last six years, Purdue Professor Aniket Kate’s team has been building and analyzing blockchain-based solutions for finance and supply chains. His projects include building automotive supply chains for Ford Motors and digital supply chains for Northrop Grumman. He particularly excels at analyzing and understanding blatant privacy vulnerabilities in the ad hoc blockchain-enabled traceability solutions in the wild, and developing privacy-enhancing solutions towards resolving those vulnerabilities.

This is a topic that will touch everyone eventually and I invite you to visit the CERIAS web site for more information. Please also check out the Discovery Park web site to see other exciting events we have scheduled this year.   Stay safe out there in cyberspace.

The New Future of Warfare

The dust lay thick upon the ruins of bombed-out buildings. Small groups of soldiers, leaden with their cargo of weaponry, bent low and scurried like beetles between the wrecked pillars and remains of shops and houses. Intelligence had indicated that enemy troops were planning a counterattack, but so far, all was quiet across the heat-shimmered landscape.  The allied soldiers gazed intently out at the far hills and closed their weary, dust-caked eyes against the glare coming off the sand. Suddenly, the men were aware of a low humming sound, like thousands of angry bees, coming from the northeast.  Getting louder, this sound was felt, more than heard, and the buzzing was intensifying with each passing second. The men looked up as a dark, undulating cloud approached, and found a swarm of hundreds of drones, dropped from a distant unmanned aircraft, heading to their precise location in a well-coordinated group, each turn and dip a nuanced dance in close collaboration with their nearest neighbors…

Although it seems like a scene from a science fiction movie, the technology already exists to create weapons that can attack targets without human intervention, according to defense analyst and former U.S. Army Ranger Paul Scharre.  In his book Army of None, Scharre explores the future of battlefield technology utilizing autonomous weapons and artificial intelligence, or A.I.

The prevalence of this technology is pervasive and A.I. as a transformational technology shows virtually unlimited potential across a broad spectrum of industries.  In healthcare, for instance, robot-assisted surgery allows doctors to perform complex procedures with fewer complications than surgeons operating alone, and A.I.-driven technologies show great promise in aiding clinical diagnosis and automating workflow and administrative tasks, with the benefit of potentially saving billions in healthcare dollars.  In a different area, we are all aware of the emergence of autonomous vehicles and the steady march toward driverless cars being a ubiquitous sight on American roadways. We trust that all this technology will be safe and ultimately in the best interest of the public.

Warfare, however, is a different animal.

In his book, Paul Scharre asks, “Should machines be allowed to make life-and-death decisions in war? Should it be legal? Is it right?”  It is with these questions in mind and in light of the advancing A.I. arms race with Russia and China that the Pentagon has announced the creation of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), which will have oversight of most of the A.I. efforts of U.S. service and defense agencies.  The timeliness of this venture cannot be underestimated; as Robert Latiff states in his book Future War, “Battles of the future will not necessarily be fought on battlefields as we know them, but in cities, in ungoverned areas, in cyberspace, and in the realm of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Even outer space will be a contested environment.” Automated warfare has become a “not if, but when” scenario.

In the fictional account above, it is the enemy combatant that, in a “strategic surprise,” uses advanced A.I.-based autonomous robots to attack the presumably victorious U.S. troops and their allies. Only a few years ago, we may have dismissed such a scenario — an enemy of the U.S. having more and better advanced technology for use in the battlefield — as utterly unrealistic. Today, however, few would question such a possibility. Technology development is global, and accelerating worldwide. China, for example, has announced that it will overtake the U.S. within a few years and will dominate the global A.I. Market by 2030. Given the pace and scale of investment the Chinese government is making in this (and other advanced technology spaces such as quantum information systems), such a scenario is patently feasible.

But, one may ask, why is this important in a fully globalized world? Those groups and nations that innovate most effectively and dominate the A.I. technology landscape will not only control commercial markets, but will also hold a very significant advantage in future warfare. In many respects, the threat of general A.I.-based weapons to national security is perhaps as existential a threat to the future national security of the United States and its allies as nuclear weapons were at the end of World War II.

Fortunately, the U.S. government and Congress are rising to the challenge. Anticipating these trends and challenges, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced, in a recent memo, that the nation’s top four research and development priorities would encompass defense, A.I., autonomy, and quantum information systems. This directly feeds into the job of the aforementioned JAIC, which is to establish a repository of standards, tools, data, technology, processes, and expertise for the Department of Defense, as well as coordinate with other government agencies, industry, U.S. allies, and academia.  It is this last piece of the puzzle that I believe is in fact extremely important, and which Purdue University and other top academic institutions in the U.S. are uniquely positioned to provide.

It cannot be incumbent upon any one area to provide all the answers, so Purdue University’s Discovery Park has positioned itself as a paragon of collaborative, cutting-edge research which extends into the A.I. arena by the integration of several cross-cutting departments.  The Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation (i-GDSI) is already answering JAIC needs for advanced A.I. research by delving into areas such as biomorphic robots, automatic target recognition for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and autonomous exploration and localization of targets for aerial drones. i-GSDI recognized the need to converge core AI technologies with mission applications and designed the investments through an ‘AI+ Rapid Innovation’ internal RFP. ‘AI+’ motivates this very important aspect of converging technologies and operational imperatives — exactly what the JAIC is charged to do across the Department of Defense mission space. Complementary to the mission of the JAIC, the Purdue Policy Research Institute (PPRI) is actively investigating the ethical, legal, and social impacts of connected and autonomous vehicles (CATV). Some of the topics being researched include privacy and security, workforce disruption, insurance and liability, and economic impact. PPRI is also starting to investigate the question of ethics, technology and the future of war and security.

The bench is already strong for mission-inspired AI research. Purdue University is a key player in the C-BRIC (Center for Brain-Inspired Computing) project, forging ahead on “AI+” mentality by combining neuromorphic computing architectures with autonomous systems applications. The Integrative Data Science Initiative (IDSI) at Purdue transforms data into useable information by taking advantage of the proliferation of low-cost data storage and sensors.  Data science is used by all of the nation’s security agencies and no doubt will be integral to the functioning of the JAIC and its mission. The opportunities for Purdue and Discovery Park to enter into a partnership with the JAIC are vast and span a wide range of disciplines and research areas.  In short, we are primed to play a vital role in the future of the nation’s service and defense agencies and must be relentless in pursuing the opportunities available to us.

It has become apparent that the U.S. is no longer guaranteed top dog status on the dance card that is the future of war.  In order to maintain military superiority the focus must shift from traditional weapons of war to advanced systems that rely on A.I.-based weaponry.  The stakes are just too high and the prize too great to for the U.S. to be left behind.  All the more reason to call upon Purdue University and its inestimable capacity to weave together academia, research, and industry for the greater good. We’re stepping up to secure our place in the future of our country, and there’s much more to come!

When Technology, Social Science Converge, Smart Policies Emerge

Ten billion people. Megacities. Massive increases in food production. Double, even triple energy demand. Impacts of climate change and the need for access to clean water. Potential pandemics. We face many challenges to sustain our planet’s quality of life, today and for decades to come. Daunting? Exceedingly so. The future of society hangs in the balance.

Rising to meet these challenges: a focused convergence of technological experts and social scientists.


Tapping Technology

From nanotechnology to synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, quantum computing and robotics, technology is advancing exponentially.  As the cost of many technologies decreases, global access to their benefits increases faster than we ever envisioned. Technology, then, promises to help us tackle and solve grand challenges.

Today we speak of a future where everything is “smart” and “precise.” Precision agriculture and medicine and smart transportation, cities and manufacturing are a sampling of the current rhetoric about the future of everything. In this future, technology augments human capacity, presenting yet another challenge: fewer people will be needed in the workplace.


Heeding Societal Implications

As technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics replace humans on the job, what is the future of work?

In 1810, about 95 percent of the U.S. population worked in agriculture. Today, only about 2 percent do. In those 200 years, we transformed the nature of work, found new jobs and trained our growing population. However, exponential technology begets exponential change, and the McKinsey Global Institute predicts by 2035, just 18 years from now, about 45 percent of today’s jobs will be performed by machines. To ameliorate this transition, some advocate for a universal basic income to replace work-related income. In my opinion, the issues are broader than income support and need a fuller consideration. We must ask: What are the ethical, legal and societal implications of such a movement?

Solving these global challenges calls for addressing societal issues through deep and rigorous research. Technology and the social sciences together must inform new, “smart” policies to help us progress.


Transdisciplinary Work at Purdue Policy Research Institute

While definitive answers are yet to be determined, faculty at Purdue University’s Discovery Park are seeking solutions rooted in transdisciplinary research and education. True solutions, with positive social impact, require working across and beyond traditional boundaries that often separate humanists and social scientists from natural scientists, engineers and technologists. At Discovery Park, these disciplines converge to address global challenges.

One example is the Purdue Policy Research Institute, led by S. Laurel Weldon, distinguished professor of political science, which works across traditional boundaries to better understand how the convergence of technology and social sciences can yield well-informed policy and a better understanding of our changing world.

The power of this approach is illustrated in the Mellon Foundation-funded partnership between Purdue Libraries and the Institute. Purdue researchers are taking a unique approach in their research, developing and integrating innovative models of scholarly communication by embedding publishing professionals, library faculty and policy experts in the research and communication process. The approach is also unique in involving humanists and social scientists at the core of efforts to understand and find solutions to grand challenges.

This grant four interdisciplinary teams who are tackling issues such as sustainability in U.S. agriculture, big data ethics, climate change governance and the effectiveness of science-policy interaction, and decision support tools for flood risk mitigation.


Autonomous Systems

The Institute is also undertaking research—initially through a fellowship program—in autonomous systems. While technology enabling autonomous vehicles is developing quickly, the ethical, legal and societal implications of these future transportation and mobility systems are not yet thoroughly understood. PPRI aims to catalyze the discussions, and ultimately the research, to fill this gap, again, by involving scholars from multiple disciplines and stakeholders in the research process right from the start.

Similarly, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are growing in popularity and for a variety of purposes. Like many technologies, they are proliferating at a greater pace than regulations to ensure safety and security without unduly restricting growth in technology and industry. The Institute has created the Drone Regulatory Research Initiative, a public/private, interdisciplinary partnership, to deepen understanding of these issues and develop fresh approaches and alternative solutions.

This project brings together engineers, aviation technology experts, social scientists, agricultural scientists and others. In 2016-2017, an interdisciplinary group of honors students worked with the Institute staff to develop a brief outlining the main uses and policy issues, and a policy brief series will run through this academic year. The Institute has also developed partnerships with Airmap and Pierce Aerospace, participates in the University Aviation Association for education and policy analysis subcommittee, and contributes to federal regulations and policy implementation of drones.


Net-Zero Energy Housing

Yet another area is the importance of policy supporting sustainable, accessible-to-all and affordable housing. The Institute is working with Purdue political science professor Leigh Raymond, former director of the Center for the Environment, on net-zero energy housing, to employ “smart” technologies to develop housing returning as much energy to the grid as it takes away. Raymond, who will be a PPRI Faculty Fellow this academic year, is leading the project, which, in partnership with the State of Indiana’s Energy Systems Network and Move Forward Program, will develop both technological solutions and a policy framework to make net-zero feasible. When technology and social policy integrate to address grand challenges, it can help us solve seemingly intractable situations.


Gender Equality

Weldon’s own research focuses on gender equality and public policy, a grand challenge area necessitating transdisciplinary research. This year, the Institute plans to further develop work on women’s human rights and the connection to science and technology issues. A major part is understanding how social norms, including attitudes about gender, affect the ways we use or do not use science and technology to their greatest effect.

For example, technology can help or hinder women’s access to markets and economic empowerment. The Internet, for example, can facilitate opportunity for women while also being a source of online violence and harassment. Cell phones and cashless banking make it possible for women in the developing world to work and access funds without exposing themselves to sexual assault and harassment as they travel to distant financial institutions. However, women are disproportionately disadvantaged by the emphasis on cell phones in much of the developed world. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates women in low-to-middle income countries are 20 percent less likely to have a mobile phone, a gap meaning some 300 million women in the developing world lack access to phones.  Weldon will make a presentation on this subject for the Dawn or Doom series next month, and will take part in the “goalkeepers” events organized in New York City next month to focus attention on the Sustainable Development Goals and the progress that has been made on women’s human rights.


These are a few ways technologists and social scientists are partnering to address holistically some grand challenges so tomorrow’s megacities, energy and water demands and income opportunities benefit all. Look for many more convergence stories to emerge from Purdue’s Discovery Park.

Driving Toward an Autonomous Future

I arrived at my office ready to engage in the rest of the day’s activities. On my one hour commute from my house on the beach, I had been able to participate in our weekly board meeting with partners from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. The Virtual Reality system in the Connected and Autonomous Transportation Vehicle (CATV) that had picked me up at my doorstep that morning had worked, as always, flawlessly and the global partners meeting in our secure virtual conference room had gone off without a hitch. I even had 15 minutes left over to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the news and catching up on the day’s upcoming events.

How far, or how near, is this future? Not a day goes by when we do not read something in the press about progress in autonomous cars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence or a host of other digital technologies. Companies all over the world are innovating in these spaces at a fast and furious pace. However, and despite all the progress we read about, a myriad of technical, policy, legal, regulatory and even ethical challenges remain that must be overcome for a future such as this to become reality. In fact, I would argue that the ultimate, integrated system of systems solution appears distant.

CATVs are not about traditional automotive technology; they are about wireless communication, smart cities and smart infrastructure, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, cybersecurity, 3D mapping, big data, functional sensors, electric batteries, 3D printing and other advanced technologies that have little to do with the traditional focus of the automotive industry. As a result, the job market of the future for students that graduate from universities like Purdue will be with new and different companies that integrate software, hardware, infrastructure, and autonomy systems and sell completely new products and systems into new, yet to be fully understood markets.

Leading universities around the U.S. and the world are making a strong, strategic push to be at the forefront of the development of these new technologies. State and federal research agencies are starting to develop programs that increasingly focus research funding and policy studies into these spaces. At Purdue’s Discovery Park, we are launching a new initiative focused on research, development, testing and evaluation of technological systems and human factors for the CAT future. Building on our long and illustrious history of excellence in transportation research, we are partnering with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Indiana Governor’s Office, Deloitte Consulting, the Transportation Development Group and many private sector companies to explore the feasibility and opportunity to develop a state-of-the-art CAT testing and R&D facility next to the Purdue campus.

The idea is that such a facility would attract all the leading global suppliers of CAT technologies not just to test their technologies and system solutions in a simulated but well controlled urban and rural environment, but also to partner with Purdue faculty and students in developing next generation technologies and systems. Moreover, a facility such as this would serve as a magnet for federal and state resources to perform research on advanced sensors, AI, big data and analytics, communication, cybersecurity, safety, urban and landscape design, policy and regulation, ethics and other related topics.

This grand vision is compelling, but we are not the only ones thinking this way. Therefore, we need to lean on the tremendous interest of our faculty and students to develop a coherent strategic roadmap that will identify our competitive advantages, and will tell us where to play and how to win. To do this, we can build from a foundation of excellence.

Faculty at Purdue have been, and continue to be, involved in federal and state programs that focus on the future of transportation. Prof. Srini Peeta in the School of Civil Engineering has been a leader in the development of integrated and sustainable transportation solutions through his leadership of the NEXTRANS Center, a U.S. Department of Transportation center in operation since 2007. NEXTRANS’s Driving Simulator Laboratory is a quasi-living laboratory for mobility and safety research, interactive learning and outreach that develops behavioral and operational models and assesses impacts to address current and emerging needs. A new center, also supported by the U.S. DOT, and led at Purdue by Prof. Peeta in partnership with the University of Michigan and other Midwest universities, CCAT, will explore the full picture of how communities can best transition to connected and automated vehicles.

Prof. Greg Shaver in the School of Mechanical Engineering has partnered with Cummins and Peloton, a California Start Up, to explore the future of connected and autonomous class-8 trucks via a new grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Prof. Darcy Bullock, also of the School of Civil Engineering is the longtime leader of the State of Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Joint Transportation Research Program which facilitates collaboration between INDOT, higher education institutions and industry to implement innovations that result in continuous improvement in the planning, design, construction, operation, management and economic efficiency of the Indiana transportation infrastructure.

Similarly, Prof. Andrew Tarko, a world leader in transportation safety studies and in civil engineering, leads the INDOT-funded Center for Road Safety, which seeks to provide data and knowledge for a changing automotive transportation system, to foster and coordinate transportation research in both technical and policy areas.  Prof. Richard Voyles, in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, works with his students to develop 1/8th scale autonomous cars for testing behavior and performance in extreme environments.

In addition to these and other ongoing automotive and transportation research efforts, Purdue has exceptional capabilities through its faculty in the colleges of Science, Engineering, Agriculture, Liberal Arts, Health and Human Sciences and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute related to control systems, cybersecurity, AI and machine learning, landscape architecture, consumer psychology, policy, robotics and many other topics, all of which are related and fundamental to progress toward an autonomous future.

By weaving our strengths together into a tightly knit and coherent transdisciplinary effort, and creating the public and private partnerships necessary for success, I believe that when we sit in an autonomous vehicle fifteen or twenty years from now on the way to a new destination, we will be able to look back with pride at the role that Purdue University played in leading and enabling the success of the massive societal transformation that autonomy represents.

Out-Innovating Our Adversaries

Since the inception of the digital age, the United States has been the unchallenged global leader in computing technology, but with little public attention, our advantage has been eclipsed. We are now engulfed in a computing technology race that is as portentous as any military conflict we have ever faced before.

TOP500, the organization that monitors and ranks the world’s supercomputers, reported last summer that China has developed two different computer systems that are now the two fastest on the planet. Just 15 years ago, China had none of the top 500 supercomputers in the world, but today, it has more than any other nation, including the United States. China’s new Sunway TaihuLight achieves speeds that are five times faster than the fastest supercomputer in the United States — and it achieves those speeds with Chinese-made chips.

Supercomputers are used to simulate and study everything from the paths of hurricanes to the genetic origins of man and are critical to future advances in healthcare, the development alternative energy resources and national security. While China’s latest advance does not yet fundamentally change the balance of power, the impacts are clearly visible on the horizon and should be a wake-up call to policymakers.

It is no longer science fiction to imagine an adversary’s use of the first, large-scale practical quantum computer to decrypt previously unbreakable encryption keys that would blind us to enemy military movements while our own would be entirely visible to the enemy. While such a practical quantum computer does not exist today, China is investing billions in their development.

The race is on.

We can no longer rely on decades of military superiority or the so-called technology “offsets” like nuclear weapons, and stealth technology and global positioning satellites. While we may hold a technological lead, it is tenuous: the other runners are advancing on us, clearly visible in our peripheral vision.

The challenge before us is clear. If we are to stay ahead of the ever-growing wave of global technological innovation, we must out-invent, out-discover and out-innovate our adversaries — and we must do so on a constant, daily basis.

There is no third offset. There is only a continuous offset, the keys to which are speed and effectiveness in translating basic research, discoveries and technological advances into affordable operational products and systems that move quickly into actual, practical use.  Our singular mission can be described in three words: rapid, affordable innovation.

To accomplish this mission, we have launched the Institute for Global Security and Defense Innovation (i-GSDI), where our researchers from across campus will converge all of the relevant academic disciplines, including the social and behavioral sciences, to ensure the university’s focus and commitment to national security and defense innovation. With the launch of i-GSDI, Purdue will be a leading innovator for the nation’s defense and security community. The Institute will provide integrated, world-class scientific, engineering, policy, economic and social science problem solving capabilities and solutions.

The Institute was launched in conjunction of the Global Security and Defense Symposium on Dec 1, 2016, where speakers highlighted the critical role of research universities in global security. Throughout the course of seven keynotes and four panels, the notion of convergent thinking across technology, policy, the social sciences took center stage as a necessary approach to a world of increasing, and increasingly complex, challenges.

The Institute is already assembling faculty and student experts and thought leaders for workshops and integration strategy sessions in key areas of autonomy and hypersonic flight technology, with others to follow shortly after.

This convergence is not confined to campus. On the contrary, and by necessity, i-GSDI is also leading strategic partnerships with critical organizations, including the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Crane Division, Sandia National Laboratories, the Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), and the Air Force Life Cycle management Center. Each of these partners has recognized that Purdue brings critical, complimentary expertise that both broaden and deepen their respective missions.

Longstanding partnership areas with NSWC Crane, such as trusted microelectronics and power/energy storage, are growing at the same time as new areas like model-based systems engineering (MBSE) analytics and hypersonics are emerging, altogether making the relationship truly strategic for both sides.

Similarly, i-GSDI is developing a deep understanding of the needs of the AF Global Strike Command in areas central to our nation’s nuclear deterrent, such as Nuclear Command, Control and Communications. In support of this mission, the Institute is leading a new relationship with Louisiana Tech University, a key local supporter of AF Global Strike, in order that the two universities can maximize impact on the Command’s mission needs.

Purdue is proud to be one of five universities in the Sandia Academic Alliance Program. The i-GSDI has taken the lead in identifying and connecting critical research needs with combinations of Sandia staff and Purdue faculty. These efforts have already produced numerous research efforts and products, and again are drawn much more clarity to the Purdue ecosystem on the critical technologies needed for a “continuous offset”, including advanced energetic materials, hypersonic systems and novel propulsion concepts, next-generation computing and cyber security, to name a few.

The opportunity for Purdue to contribute to our nation’s security and well-being continues to grow. Faculty teams are converging and responding to grand-challenge-scale proposal solicitations from DOD, DHS, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and others in areas such as homeland security, employing Internet of Things technologies on the battlefield, energetic materials, etc. With sustained support from the government, the private sector and venture capital, universities like Purdue that embrace this commitment to developing innovative, convergent technologies will help ensure our continued lead in defense technology — and the security of our nation.

Our Big Idea

It started with a brainstorming session. We wanted to find new ways to impact some of the most wicked global challenges society faces today, and change the world for the better in the process. We understood the power of convergence, and believed that an approach that coupled research in traditionally siloed STEM disciplines with novel digital technologies and data-based approaches, could provide new insights to confront and tackle many of these grand challenges, particularly when augmented by research and insights from the social sciences and the humanities.

In an effort to capitalize on this idea, and catalyze the type of transdisciplinary research that would bring truly wholistic approaches to solving wicked social problems, we launched a new program: The Discovery Park Big Idea Challenge. Our goal was to harness the strengths of Purdue University, and to provide resources to transdisciplinary teams of Purdue faculty and students pursuing new, bold and innovative ideas with the potential for transformative impact on society.

We issued the call for proposals in October of 2016, and the response from across the university was nothing short of phenomenal. Discovery Park received 46 proposals from more than 230 faculty, representing all 10 colleges and 45 departments. Of those 46 proposals, 16 were selected to advance to a final round. Those teams presented the value proposition of their Big Idea to a panel of judges, which included senior Purdue faculty and other external leaders from industry and academia.

While we were very fortunate to receive many outstanding proposals and compelling presentations, at the end of the deliberation, the frontrunners emerged. The seven winning teams will position Discovery Park, and by extension Purdue, as a leader in generating new solutions to global grand challenges in the areas of sustainability, health and security.

Catherine HillRevolutionizing Control of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases
PI: Catherine Hill, professor of entomology and vector biology, Department of Entomology

Overview: New and reemerging mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, malaria and dengue are on the rise as a result of unprecedented human population growth, habitat destruction and climate change. Scientists are seeking to develop a robust arsenal of weapons to combat these diseases. Hill’s team aims to meet this challenge by developing new control technologies based on non-toxic and non-lethal pesticides that suppress pathogen transmission by mosquitoes. Ultimately, they intend to create and commercialize compounds that disrupt disease transmission from mosquito to human without killing the insect and while preserving biodiversity.

Leigh RaymondAffordable Net Zero Housing and Transportation Solutions
PI: Leigh Raymond, professor of political science and director of the Center for the Environment in Discovery Park

Overview: Current housing and transportation options create environmental and social challenges and, in particular, impose high costs on low-income families. Drawing on expertise from multiple departments and colleges, Raymond and his team aim to transform the affordable housing sector so that onsite renewable energy and smart home and transportation technologies are the rule rather than the exception.

Dave EbertHarnessing Technology and Information Fusion to Enable Resilient and Sustainable Food-Water Balance under Evolving Environmental Conditions
PI: David S. Ebert, the Silicon Valley Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of VACCINE (Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments)

Overview: By the year 2030, food production must be increased by 70 percent in order to feed a larger world population. Today, almost 80 percent of the world’s fresh water withdrawals from rivers, lakes and aquifers go to agriculture. Ebert and his collaborators will develop a human-computer collaborative decision-making system for sustainable agriculture that takes into account the complex relationships between real-world data, the socio-political environment and on-the-ground practices. The system will provide planners and policy- and decision-makers with more accurate information than previously possible, helping growers to optimize crop yields and minimize use of water and other resources.

Tom HertelManaging the Global Commons: Sustainable Agriculture and Use of World’s Land and Water Resources
PI: Thomas Hertel, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics

Overview: The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are focused on ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Meeting that goal will require reconciling future demands for food, energy, clean water, biodiversity, climate change mitigation and poverty reduction. Examining the possibility of win-win outcomes, Hertel and his team will establish an applied research consortium to analyze scenarios and explore policy alternatives that promote responsible public and private investment; sustainable management of critical, shared natural resources; and collective action toward meeting the UN’s SDG.

Yong ChenPhotonics Science and Technologies for Security and Healthcare Applications
PI: Yong P. Chen, professor of physics and astronomy and of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Purdue Quantum Center

Overview: Approximately 50 million people in the U.S. alone become ill because of contamination by foodborne pathogens and other agents every year. Conventional and standard bacterial detection methods may take up to several hours or even a few days to yield an answer, and are inadequate to solve this problem. Building upon Purdue’s expertise in photonic science and engineering, and collaborations between multiple disciplines and stakeholders, Chen and his team intend to develop photonics-based food pathogen sensors that bridge the gap between university-scale research and real-world deployment, offering enhanced performance at lower cost.

Nate HartmanRealizing Next-Generation Smart Manufacturing
PI: Nathan Hartman, the Dauch Family Endowed Professor and Associate Head, Department of Computer Graphics Technology, and director of Purdue’s Product Lifecycle Management Center of Excellence

Overview: The digital revolution ― driven by the rapid emergence of new technologies such as 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IOT), autonomous systems, robotics and others ― is changing the way humans live, work and play. In particular, it is transforming manufacturing, which is experiencing a fourth industrial revolution. Exploring approaches to digitalization throughout manufacturing, Hartman’s team will engage with stakeholders, create roadmaps and develop a cohesive, multidisciplinary approach to next-generation manufacturing aimed at creating a new competitive edge for U.S. manufacturers, and at training the next generation of talent that will carry this revolution forward.

Dongyan XuTowards Cyber-Physical Vetting of Critical Infrastructures
PI: Dongyan Xu, professor of computer science and interim director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

Overview: Critical cyber-enabled infrastructures, such as those in civil, energy, manufacturing and defense domains, are increasingly the target of cyber or physical attacks that pose significant threats to organizational and national security. However, no strong defenses currently exist that span both the cyber and physical domains. Xu and his team aim to develop an integrated framework for vetting a cyber-physical infrastructure system from both the cyber and the physical perspectives simultaneously. The outcome is expected to provide a new set of models, methods and tools for defending a wide range of cyber-physical infrastructures such as dams, nuclear facilities, IOT systems and others.

These winning teams will receive funding for up to two years, based on the scope, milestones and budget laid out in the proposals submitted. While this funding alone will not be sufficient to truly tackle and solve a challenge of the magnitude and scope presented by these teams, it will help nurture ideas and create opportunities for new and significant external funding—both public and private– that will position these teams and the university as leaders in their areas of endeavor. The teams will chart new pathways to discoveries, innovations and social and policy solutions, while training the next generation of future leaders and interdisciplinary talent.

Because we received a number of exemplary proposals, we also plan to work with the teams that did not obtain funding in this first round to help them identify other partner organizations and mechanisms for achieving their research goals.

We are thrilled to be able to work with these teams, and invite you to follow this blog for updates to their progress and for more information about the transformative work happening at Purdue University and Discovery Park.