Intelligence research org on look-out for emerging technologies

Thursday - 10/6/2011, 9:37am EDT

Dr. Dewey Murdick, program manager, IARPA

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The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity aims for cutting edge research to give the United States the edge in intelligence.

But the agency says it's not interested in the "sure things," or "low-hanging fruit." So, how does IARPA discover the truly emerging technologies?

Dr. Dewey Murdick, the program manager of FUSE — which stands for Foresight and Understanding from Scientific Exposition — joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris to discuss how the program helps IARPA scan the technological horizon for new technologies that could impact national security in the future.

It turns out, FUSE's computers, which can essentially "speed read" thousands of documents at once are leaving no stone unturned.

"We're basically ingesting the world's public scientific, technical and patent literature to identify what the indicators might be that are indicative of an emerging technology," Murdick said.

Another huge part of the FUSE program deals with a fundamental question: What does it mean for a new technology "to emerge." FUSE, Murdick said, is working on developing a strong theoretical basis for answering that question.

"There's a lot of work — companies and private-sector and, even, government organizations — trying to figure out what technologies are emerging. Most of the people who do this are using very manual steps that haven't systematically validated. So we haven't actually figured out how best to measure what it means for a technology to emerge. "

Murdick, who used to be an intelligence analyst, said there is an increasing need for the intelligence community to provide information to its customers — government decisonmakers — "so that they can anticipate technical change rather than just react to it," he said.

The output of the FUSE program would prioritize technical areas that analysts look further into.

Another hurdle for researchers is finding out what's truly emerging and what's merely part of another "hype cycle," Murdick added.

The FUSE project, which is just now taking off, Murdick said, has applications across many different areas.

"We're really trying to cross domains," he explained. "We're not just looking at one particular sector and trying to figure out how to work in that. We're trying to figure out how to cross cultures, cross languages, cross scientific domains.'

In the future, this "high-risk, high pay-off" project aims to use technology to augment the work analysts, not replace them altogether, Murdick said.

"So the things that humans are really good at, humans are actually doing," he said. "And the things that computers are good at — in scanning large amounts of published content — let the computers do that."