Technology

All aspects of technology, devices, hardware, software as it relates to the federal CIO role.

Congressman Hurd Prioritizes AI for 2018

This year, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act began grading agencies on software licensing, and the Modernizing Government Technology Act passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. So, what’s next for government IT policy?

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, has led these IT efforts as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform IT Subcommittee. In terms of the evolution of FITARA, he told GovernmentCIO Magazine he’s looking to turn it into a digital hygiene scorecard to identify and measure the key elements that drive good security.

For example, a fifth category in FITARA Scorecard 5.0 was added to assess agency management of software licenses by megabytes. It intends to ensure agencies know the hardware on their system, whether they’re doing continuous monitoring, are implementing the right security rules and have application security protocols.

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But broadly, Hurd is looking at the use of artificial intelligence. For 2018, he said he wants to explore how the government can use AI, especially across all the data so many agencies collect, for purposes of fraud detection and improving citizen-facing services.

“I think the best example is [the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency],” he said. “We should not have analysts doing a side-by-side of one photo on day one, and the same kind of image on day two, to determine if a car has moved half a pixel. With the advances of AI, you should be able to use computer vision to do those kinds of things.”

And it’s not that NGA isn’t getting into AI. In fact, the agency awarded four contracts earlier this year to enhance AI and automation for geospatial-intelligence analysis. According to NGA, this research will help the agency explore how humans and machines can work together to analyze all its data and better meet customer demands. The contracts include developing automated solutions and systems that improve decision making, streamline workflows and even form virtual assistants.

But many of these solutions heavily rely on the cloud. Hurd said the only way to use AI at its full potential is to have the data in a cloud that is enabled for AI and machine learning.

“We’re definitely not there yet,” he said, but that’s why data center consolidation, which is a huge part of FITARA, is so important.

In fact, in the most recent scorecard grades, some agencies still failed in that category.'

“There shouldn’t be a debate, the cloud is not new technology,” Hurd said. “The cloud is emerged, and you can secure it, so why are we not moving to it?”

Once agencies do move to the cloud, they can begin to reap the benefits of AI — and that’s what Hurd is focusing on in the first quarter of next year.  He said to expect a series of hearings on the topic.

Unsolicited Cryptocurrency Mining…And Other News You May Have Missed

When customers in a Starbucks in Buenos Aires connected to the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, they were unknowingly injected with a code that hijacked their processing power so someone could mine cryptocurrency.  This has apparently become a trend” especially with the rapid rise of value of digital currencies like Bitcoin.

Software company Stensul’s CEO Noah Dinkin noticed the intrusion and tweeted at Starbucks that the in-store Wi-Fi provider forced a 10-second delay when he first connected, in order to mine the digital currency using his laptop.  The company that gave the code to the miner was CoinHive, which works with Bitcoin’s competitor Monero.

Regardless, mining is a heavy process and can really impact a computer’s processing speed and performance. A smart but invasive technique. Starbucks responded to Dinkin’s tweet, saying it resolved the issue, but it doesn’t hurt to double check next time you’re using public Wi-Fi. Motherboard

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Do Driverless Cars Give You Anxiety?

Volvo Cars is on a mission to find this out, by putting video cameras inside its cars that have its driver-assistance features. These cars will be driven by five families and the cameras will record their actions in the car while it’s driving. The goal is to collect data that will help Volvo develop its highway-ready fully autonomous cars by 2021. Addressing this trust will hopefully mean the person in the driver’s seat even feels comfortable watching a movie while the car is in charge.

Volvo is using its XC90 sport-utility vehicle equipped with sensors and cameras that monitor the eyes, faces and feed of the person in the driver’s seat. There’s also driver-assistance technology that keeps the car driving at a certain speed, in a specific lane and a certain distance away from the car in front of it — but the driver has to keep a hand on the wheel the entire time or an alarm will go off. But aside from the technology and sensors, Volvo is trying to understand how drivers interact with autonomous vehicles. The New York Times

AI Could Replace Your Attorney

The McKinsey research group estimates 22 percent of a lawyer’s job and 35 percent of a law clerk’s job can be automated, so even though bots and AI are helping advance the field, it might be troubling to some law students and paralegals. Currently, AI-powered document discovery tools have the biggest impact. These tools are fed millions of documents, case files and legal briefs, so machine-learning algorithms can flag sources a lawyer may need for a case.

JPMorgan is using a tool called Contract Intelligence. It’s capable of doing document review tasks in seconds, which takes legal workers more than 300,000 hours. This kind of document work is usually training material for first-year associate lawyers, and some of it is already being taken by AI.

For example, India-based CaseMine, a legal technology company, builds on document discovery software with a virtual associate. It can take an uploaded brief, suggest changes and provide more documents to help the lawyer’s argument. Legal tech company funding is rising, too, so either legal aides work with AI-powered tools, or fear being replaced by them. MIT Technology Review

San Francisco is Over its Delivery Robots

The tech-heavy city is banning delivery robots on most of its sidewalks and restricting their use where permitted, and ZDNet describes the as “the strictest in the nation.”

Apparently, there’s some heat between tech companies and San Francisco’s legislators, but even with the benefits of robot delivery, pedestrians have complained about how the bots crowd sidewalks and cause hazards.

The city adopted the autonomous robots earlier this year after the company Marble partnered with Yelp Eat 24 to deliver food. The robots have four wheels and are the size of an office copy machine, but are monitored by humans in real-time.

The bots did endure a testing period in select neighborhoods, but a month after they hit the sidewalks in May, the city supervisor tried to ban them because of safety concerns. The ban didn’t have the proper backing back then, but after photos and written complaints from angry pedestrians, the board of supervisors voted last week that not all innovations are that great. ZDNet

Google AI Finds a Home in China

This week, the tech giant announced it’s opening the Google China AI Center in Beijing, a research lab dedicated to AI that will be led by two chief scientists and AI researchers at Google Cloud. Google still has staff in China working on its international services, and the AI lab has already hired some top talent — but there are still more than 20 jobs open. The team will work AI colleagues in Google offices worldwide, in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.

The AI China Center will publish its own work as well as support the AI research community by funding and sponsoring AI conferences and workshops, according to Google Cloud’s Chief Scientist Dr. Fei-Fei Li. The center willalso work closely with the Chinese AI research community, but is competing with the country’s largest tech companies for talent (Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent).  

No word yet on whether China will unblock the search engine, though. TechCrunch

How HHS Gathered 300 Coders to Solve a Public Health Crisis

When the secretary of the Health and Human Services Department asked all senior leadership to help fight the opioid epidemic, the Office of the Chief Technology Officer turned to data. And not just departmental data, but government and nationwide.

For other components within HHS, the strategy seemed more straightforward; but for the CTO’s office, which is not clinician-based and doesn’t give grant money for programs, it took some thinking.

HHS CTO Bruce Greenstein said he wanted to take a more impactful approach.

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“We talked about ways to harness the power of data we have in the department, and bring the best minds in the country together with a limited budget," he said. 

This sparked the idea of a code-a-thon, which Greenstein and HHS Chief Data Officer Dr. Mona Siddiqui saw as an integral way of pulling data together from around the department with a specific use case and real business challenge. The 24-hour code-a-thon was held at HHS headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6 and 7.

Why a Code-a-Thon?

“It’s a really tangible way to demonstrate value from data,” Siddiqui said. HHS houses a significant amount of data from its various operating divisions, and simply talking about open data and its value isn't enough. “The solutions that come out of [the code-a-thon] are going to be really tangible proof of what can happen when you bring a whole set of data assets to bear on one specific problem,” Siddiqui added.

This isn’t the first code-a-thon HHS has had, but it’s the first that brought together the different agencies and their data in this way, according to Siddiqui. Previous code-a-thons have really been focused within an operating division.

So the idea of this code-a-thon as an HHS-wide effort became a “rallying cry,” as Greenstein put it, for other agencies within HHS to do something more about sharing their data, so it can be used to address the opioid epidemic.

Where’s the Data From?

Data for the code-a-thon was pulled from various operating divisions within HHS, and also from the departments of Labor, Justice, Transportation, Education and the Census Bureau, a few states and even one private entity — totaling 70 data sets.

“As far as we know, this is the largest assemblage of Health and Human Services data that the department has ever put together, and specifically for the purpose of opioids, without question,” Greenstein said.

It wasn’t hard to get everyone on board, either.

When the CTO office first went out to assemble the data, it was slow moving. But once it emphasized this data and the possible solutions will help save lives, everyone sprang into action.

“The ability to share data, the legal concerns, the data use agreements, the governance concerns, were addressed,” Greenstein said. “The character of HHS employees really shined through because people worked so hard to be able to get data together for this event, for this purpose, and it was just really uplifting to see.”

Privacy and security were also a key concern. HHS used public-use data, and states were asked to aggregate at the county or state level, so there was no concern about personally identifiable information.

“We worked as much or more with attorneys than we have [with] data scientists in putting this together,” Greenstein said. It was an extremely cautious process, but the CTO office is familiar with how to address governance, upstream contracting, data use agreements and better sharing practices within and outside of HHS.

What About the Coders?

Gathering the coders was rather organic, Siddiqui said. Announcements went out in the fall to the community of universities, coders, entrepreneurs, companies and startups around the country. There was substantial interest to engage with the federal government this way, and because of the overwhelming response, HHS had to stop recruitment at one point. (In fact, more than 300 coders showed up. They were meant to be in the main great hall where the event took place, but the department ended up filling its east wing, too.)

The coders made up 50 teams, and brought together people from different backgrounds, different skill sets, and “for us to be able to invite people, and them voluntarily come to our house to do this work, is amazing,” Greenstein said.

So What Was HHS looking For?

It was hard to predict the outcome of the code-a-thon, but HHS wanted solutions that use data to prevent opioid-related deaths. For example, predict those most likely to overdose, identify them and find solutions that target that type of person and provide proper intervention.

Ultimately, three teams won the $10,000 prize. When HHS was deciding what the award would be, in addition to the cash, Siddiqui said it considered potential partnership opportunities to help facilitate — but decided these partnerships had to be deliberate based on the solution.

“We’ve had overwhelming interest though, from organizations who are focused on this, and there are so many now who want to look for opportunities to partner with some of these teams,” Siddiqui said. So depending on the solution, Siddiqui said HHS will help facilitate some of those partnership opportunities; whether it be with state public health departments, hospital systems or police departments.

“We certainly don’t want this to be a one-time, and one-and-done event," Siddiqui said. "There should be a mechanism in place that can help to further test these solutions and then to scale." This way, all the work put into the data, along with the governance and data use agreements, will be put to use nationally.

The Code-a-Thon Effect

Greenstein hopes the success of this code-a-thon will change the way HHS thinks about how its data will be used.

“The real key is, we collect data for a primary purpose, and it’s typically to report,” he said. It’s not to analyze or to come up with solutions, and though reports are great, this data can also be used to intervene and save lives. “That’s the real difference of what you’re seeing today,” he said.  

The event also sparked further-reaching potential. HHS has tons of data, but data that impacts health outcomes is not necessarily within HHS, so Siddiqui said she’s interested in possibly partnering to bring in nontraditional health data sources. She mentioned wellness data, social network analysis, data from wearables, consumer spending data and information from grocery stores from online purchases, for example. These data sources can help answer other HHS questions.

Additionally, the department has several high-priority matters, so the data solutions won’t end here.

“We have a lot that we want to solve using these methods and so we’ll make an announcement early next year as to what the next symposium and code-a-thon will be focused on,” Greenstein said.

For agencies looking to tackle problems with similar methods, Greenstein and Siddiqui advised staying focused on a use case that is important for the entire department, having a well-rounded team (legal and technical) and leadership support from the top down. 

“And importantly, I think it’s really important for other agencies to learn from each other, to band together,” Greenstein said.

Love Your Robot? You're Not Alone.

The interaction between humans and robots has been a common theme in science fiction and popular culture, but robotic machines don’t have to be humanoid or even have much personality for people to develop a relationship with them.

Never mind Data in “Star Trek” or BB-8 in “Star Wars,” a Georgia Tech study released back in 2010 found people had become emotionally attached to their Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners, giving them names and assigning them genders. A 2013 study at the University of Washington found members of the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal units had developed bonds with their bomb disposal robots and although those feelings hadn’t affected their performance, raised the question of whether they could eventually compromise decision-making.

When robots of one kind or another develop personalities, through machine learning, natural language processing and other artificial intelligence technologies, human operators can get to “know” them, even like them. But the bottom line for government organizations looking to make increasing use of human-machine teaming is whether humans can trust them.

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Partnering with Machines

For government organizations, human-machine teaming can take a variety of forms.

NASA, for instance, is working with San Jose State University on human-autonomy teaming (or HAT, which uses an alternate term for the same idea) in aviation. Human-machine teaming has a central role in the Defense Department’s Third Offset Strategy in areas ranging from cybersecurity and manned/unmanned aircraft teams to new-tech weapons such as directed energy lasers, electromagnetic rail guns and hypersonic drones. Teaming also is used in medical fields such as diagnosis, treatment and mental health, as well as other work-like fraud detection.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and cognitive systems bring a lot to the table, including speed and the ability to conduct analysis and detect patterns in massive volumes of data beyond the capacity of a human analyst. But it’s also been established that AI systems work best when paired with human operators, hence the focus on the ability of both parties to understand and trust each other.

Pentagon’s research arm is among the organizations researching the fairly new field of Explainable AI, looking to find ways to get advanced computing systems to do what they can’t do now — explain in human terms why and how they reached a certain conclusion based on the available evidence. Researchers for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hope a clear conversation between human and machine also will help operators understand how a machine might behave in the future, as well.

Trust is a Two-way Street

The need for trust also works both ways. A research presentation by NASA’s Ames Research Center notes while transparency on the part of the machine is necessary, the machine also needs to understand the human operator, because if it “does not know what the human is trying to do, it is difficult for the system to know to engage in ways that are useful.”

The Air Force, for one, is studying the dynamics of the trust-collaboration process with regard to pilots, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operators and analysts, maintenance domains, and advanced human-robot teaming concepts. The service last year gave SRA International a $7.5 million contract the work, which is researching the “socio-emotional elements of interpersonal team/trust dynamics” to better understand human-robot teams, according to the Air Force.

Part of the equation is in recognizing that machines, so to speak, are human too — that is, they can make mistakes.

“Lack of trust is often cited as one of the critical barriers to more widespread use of AI and autonomous systems,” Julie Shah, an assistant professor at MIT and a co-leader of a research project with MIT and the Singapore University of Technology and Design, told MIT News. “These studies make it clear that increasing a user’s trust in the system is not the right goal. Instead we need new approaches that help people to appropriately calibrate their trust in the system, especially considering these systems will always be imperfect. ”

Space Policy Official Says We Need To Step Up Our Game... And Other News You May Have Missed

Stephen Kitay, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said the U.S. faces real threats as the global competition for space dominance heats up. And because we’re being challenged, the Pentagon needs to rethink its investment priorities from just buying the latest and best technology to also making sure the nation’s systems are protected from attacks. This means being prepared, having the right policies, securing international partners, and integrating these strategies into broad national security strategies in all domains — air, sea, land, cyber and space.

For example, military officials worry the Air Force’s missile-warning satellites can be targeted in the future; especially as North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile programs pressure the Air Force to design a new missile-warning system. Kitay said it’s “imperative that we innovate” in this space, and discussions are already happening.

But how the Pentagon handles space investments will correlate to how the Defense Department wants to work with the private sector, as its still unclear how the military will benefit from emerging technologies. Space News

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Alexa is Following You to Work

Thanks to Amazon’s Alexa for Business, an Alexa-powered Echo device intended as a digital assistant in the office, made to simplify the technology in conference rooms and desks. It’s a managed service plan that puts Alexa in the workplace to create a “smart office.” This Alexa will enable company-specific skills and assistant tools, and is able to initiate calls and meetings, schedule rooms, dial into conference calls, facilitate conference room settings, and manage devices.

Alexa for Business also leverages two routes to the enterprise, and the first is through developers. Because AWS is becoming an AI, data and infrastructure-as-a-service platform, Alexa has “an army” of developers for business applications and enterprise partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Salesforce.

The second route is through the workers and users. Employees are going to be familiar with Alexa, and devices at home are already familiar to the employee so Alexa will integrate into the home and workplace. The new digital assistance will also allow businesses to build their own skills, and is expected to include partners like Concur and WeWork when it launches. ZDNet

Elon Musk Wants to Blast Tesla to Mars

And he plans on using his SpaceX rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to do it. The spacecraft company, founded by Musk, has delayed the launch of its rocket it originally hoped to send off years ago, but is now planning to launch in January from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It’s a complex vehicle with 27 engines, which all have to be fired off at once. And in what seems to be a cross-promotional marketing campaign, Musk tweeted SpaceX plans to put a Tesla Roadster on the top of the rocket, launch it into an orbit around Mars to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

“I love the thought of a car drifting apparently endlessly through space and perhaps being discovered by an alien race millions of years in the future,” Musk tweeted. SpaceX still needs the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, and to ensure the car in space doesn’t jeopardize public health, safety and national security. And, well, there are moral concerns, too. The Washington Post

You Mean You Still Have Cable?

Apparently, 85 percent of U.S. households still pay for traditional cable TV — but according to TDG Research, 40 percent of Americans will cancel cable by 2030. This isn’t so much of a surprise though. The consulting firm, which focuses on the future of TV, said Americans were already leaving cable behind to cut costs after the recession, and the trend has only grown with the rise of digital streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

If the yearly decline of cable subscribers continues in its path, TDG predicts the percent of households paying for cable will drop to 60 percent in the next 13 years. TDG thinks the future of TV is an app, which most Netflix-bingers can attest to. And years ago, internet subscriptions were an upsell from cable or telephone providers, but now the internet is a “must-have,” and cable or landlines are a luxury add-on. Motherboard

Google AI Can Make Sense of Genomes

The tech giant released a tool called DeepVariant, which uses AI to build a more accurate picture of an individual’s genome from sequencing data. Making sense of the amount of data associated with a human’s genome was a huge challenge, but this can help turn that information into something life-saving.

The tool turns what’s called high-throughput sequencing readouts, which makes genome sequencing more accessible, into a picture of a full genome. Before, the data produced from this sequencing only provided a snapshot of a genome, possibly with errors.

It was also hard for scientists to find small mutations from errors generated from the sequencing process, and these mutations could be directly relevant to cancer. DeepVariant automatically identifies the mutations in sequencing data, thanks to meaning machine learning. The Google teams involved collected millions of high-throughput reads and fully sequenced genomes, fed the data to a deep-learning system and worked on it until it learned to understand sequenced data accurately — helping prove machine learning can be used to advance genomics. MIT Technology Review

How AI Can Help Mend Decaying US Infrastructure

It’s no secret much of the infrastructure of the United States is in a dilapidated condition, threatening the country with trillions of dollars in lost GDP. The Transportation Department estimates nearly two-thirds of the country’s roads and more than 140,000 bridges are in “dire need” of repair. America’s airports have fallen behind those in the rest of the world, and pipelines are a “ticking time bomb.”

And those are just a few examples. Overall, America’s infrastructure gets a grade of D+ in the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card.

While Congress and the White House go back and forth over an infrastructure bill, organizations look for ways to improve maintenance and repair, increasingly turning to drones, robotic systems and the internet of things as a relatively inexpensive way to get a comprehensive view of the nation’s underlying structure.

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Unmanned aerial vehicles and IoT sensors are being used to monitor buildings, dams and bridges. BSFN Railway, North America’s second-largest freight railroad network, is working in a public-private partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration on Project Pathway. Working with Insitu, a UAS subsidiary of Boeing, BSFN is using long-range drones to inspect rail infrastructure along its 32,500 miles of track. Autonomous systems are quickly becoming the eyes and ears of infrastructure upkeep.

The straw that will stir it all together is artificial intelligence. Video from UAVs and data collected from the IoT adds up exponentially into a massive data set in multiple formats beyond the ability of human operators to sift through.

“Here is an example where AI is absolutely necessary,” Christian Sanz, a Navy Special Forces veteran and CEO of Skycatch, told Forbes. “If you have thousands of surveillance cameras, you typically don't have the staff to watch them in real time.”

AI systems, with machine learning algorithms that can examine large troves of disparate data, learn from examples, recognize patterns and draw on previous examples, can deliver analysis of all that information in close to real time.

In one example, Fujitsu Laboratories has developed a deep learning system the company says can analyze vibration data gathered by sensors mounted on bridges to determine the rate of internal damage. In another, Avitas Systems, a startup backed by GE Ventures, is tapping into Nvidia’s GPU-powered DGX-1 supercomputers to run its AI-based analyses for inspections in the transportation and energy industries. Nvidia has also launched Metropolis, a unified architecture for performing deep-learning analysis of video feeds. Nvidia is partnering with more than 50 companies on a variety of deep-learning products and services in pushing to take the Smart City concept one better, with the creation of “AI cities.”

The move to AI analytics not only addresses a pressing need when it comes to infrastructure, but can also let local, state and federal government organizations keep up with the relentless accumulation of data.

Video feeds, whether generated by stationary cameras, aerial drones or other mobile devices, already generate more data than any other source in the world, and the number of cameras is expected to grow globally by 2020 to about 1 billion. Human operators barely get a glimpse of everything collected before it’s stored on disks, Nvidia points out.

By putting deep learning capabilities into cameras and monitoring systems via the cloud, AI analytics can potentially get around the buildup of unexamined storage by making accurate, scalable video analysis practically instantaneous.  

And in addition to meeting a need, AI systems also can help governments with their bottom line. A Deloitte study that examines the ways AI can benefit government — from scouring case law and reducing administrative backlogs to detecting fraud — predicts AI technologies could save governments as much as $41.1 billion a year. And that is not even considering using AI to avoid the potential costs from an infrastructure calamity a thorough inspection might have prevented.

Veterans Affairs Bolsters Telehealth Offerings

Imagine snapping a picture of your wound and have it automatically sent to your doctor for medical assessment, all from the comfort of your home. The Veterans Affairs Department is working to make this possible, with just one of multiple telehealth projects.

The San Diego VA Medical Center is piloting a program using computer tablet technology, which allows providers to check on the status and progress of their patients’ healing wounds without having to make appointments or office visits. The tablets have built-in digital cameras, 3-D sensors and computer vision software to capture high-resolution images and automatically measure the size of the wound, according to a VA blog post.

When a patient takes a photo of the wound, the information on the tablet transfers securely onto a cloud-based electronic repository, where providers can view it remotely. Wound measurement data from the 3-D modeling software is graphed on a chart that shows the progression of healing so doctors can see if the wound improving. Based on the results, doctors can make changes to the treatment plan.

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This also improves data accuracy, according to Dr. Kevin Broder, project director for VA’s Wound Image Capture and Storage Innovation. He said in the past, doctors visually estimated if a wound improved based on their memory of the past image.

“This tablet provides recorded, accurate data to track progress,” Broder said in the blog post.

So rather than nurses taking pictures on digital cameras, organizing the information and uploading images, the tablet handles it all. The images and data are stored, but ultimately, the goal is to have these images go directly into a patient's electronic medical record file.

The technology can also benefit other medical specialties.

For example, it can be used to capture the dimensions of a skin lesion and determine if it’s changing in size and needs to be biopsied, leading to earlier cancer detection. It can also be useful for home-based primary and nursing care or in dermatology, prosthetics, orthopedics or podiatry.

And because of the tablet’s efficiency and affordability (less than $900 per unit), VA hopes to deploy this technology across the entire department. The VA San Diego Healthcare System already expanded the pilot program in clinical settings in September, and interest has spread to other VA health care systems.

VA also partners with medical technology company Medtronic as part of its Home Telehealth Devices and Services contract, and the company just launched new VA-based solutions. It expanded its platform of telehealth offerings and integrated diagnostic devices for veterans, including its patient engagement platforms available on the Home Telehealth contract, according to the press release.

The Medtronic Care Management Services has been with VA since 2011, and the solutions are designed to serve chronic, co-morbid patients. The new offerings provide more patient choice and flexibility to better meet individual health needs, and patients can interact with these services from home via a daily health check. It even provides condition education and clinical questions that adapt based on responses.

The information submitted by patients is then organized through the MCMS web-based clinical software so clinicians get a view of their “patient population.” This helps VA care coordinators make better-informed early-care decisions.

These various programs are part of ongoing efforts by VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to connect more vets to services. Earlier this year, he and President Donald Trump announced plans to expand access to health care for veterans using telehealth technology and mobile applications.

Shulkin introduced the “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” initiative, which authorizes VA providers to use telehealth technologies to serve veterans no matter where the provider or the vet is located in the country. He also introduced VA Video Connect, a secure web-enabled video service for veterans to connect with providers by video on their mobile phones or computers, and the Veteran Appointment Request app for changing and scheduling appointments.  

Air Force to Use Data as Weapon… And Other News You May Have Missed

The initiative is called multidomain command and control, or MDC2, and its goal is to take data from sensors on the ground, in the air and in space and turn it into intelligence for war commanders. The effort is being pushed by Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, and though the plan isn’t completely fleshed out yet, officials say having a whole picture of what’s happening in all combat domains, including air, cyber and space, is needed to make better decisions and form situational awareness.

And as the amount of data available to analyze just keeps growing, there’s still a lot of information locked away and inaccessible to those who need it, especially in a somewhat “fragmented organization.” The Air Force named its first chief data officer earlier this year to connect the different parts of the branch, bring them into a multidomain environment and form a data architecture — linking space, air and cyber data.

Still, exactly how to bring all the data from sensors around the world and in space to one central location is under discussion. SpaceNews

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Your Toy, the Pentagon’s Threat

Drones are causing problems for American troops in war zones. Rather than being used commercially for delivering packages, some drones are reconfigured to drop explosives. Others are used to monitor troops and pick targets, or spread toxic gas, making them lethal weapons and intelligence tools. There’s also a fear of drones becoming more and more deadly as technology advances, or even of drones used as robot armies in swarms for raids.

So, the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization is looking to counter the drone threat by developing “anti-drone” weapons — lasers and microwaves to blast them away. JIDO is working with academia, startups and venture capitalists to stay on top of drone technology, embarking on what is similar to the counter-IED effort. Companies like CACI, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin are already developing the technology capable of tracking and taking down airborne drones. Washington Post

Facebook Uses AI to Save Lives

The social media company’s “proactive detection” artificial intelligence technology can scan all posts for patterns of suicidal thoughts and flag them to human moderators rather than waiting for users to report posts. If necessary, the AI will send help via mental health resources to the user or their friends, or even contact local first-responders.

Facebook tested a similar AI in the U.S., but now it’ll be able to reach all types of content around the world (except in the European Union because of to data protection laws).

The AI will also prioritize the more risky or urgent user reports so moderators address them quicker. Facebook even has tools to instantly find first-responder contact information, and dedicates more moderators to suicide prevention and training to deal with the cases. The company has partnered with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Forefront to provide resources to at-risk users. However, some may still have a problem with how this tech could be applied, as Facebook constantly scans the content of people's’ posts. TechCrunch

A Human Pilot Still Beat an AI Drone — For Now

It was an experiment race by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory between a pro quadcopter human pilot and NASA’s AI drone. The human won, but only after he had some practice. The race came after two years of Google-funded research into autonomous drones. The test craft used Google’s Tango technology to map surroundings in 3-D and could fly at speeds of up to 60 mph, though NASA’s tight indoor course restricted it to 40 mph.

The human pilot, Ken Loo, who also participates in the International Drone Racing League, was initially beat by the AI — until he learned the twists and turns of the course and then he won. Humans fly more “by feel,” a trait AI drones still lack.

Autonomous drones are already used for surveillance and deliveries, but it’ll take sometime to get them to race as intuitively and energetically as humans do. But one day, they will be able to outpace us. The Verge

Tech Boosts Entrepreneurship Nationwide

Perhaps to no surprise, a recent study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found the number of tech-based startups in the U.S. economy grew 47 percent in the last decade, largely contributing to economic growth. While this makes a case for more government support of these tech startups, it also proves technology is opening more doors for entrepreneurial thinking, and not just inside Silicon Valley.

Startups also provide the opportunity for many to be disruptors, and tech ventures tend to provide better pay, longer-lasting jobs than other startups and more innovation, according to Rob Atkinson, president of ITIF and co-author of the report. He also said tech-driven ventures are more likely to export their goods and services, making a “disproportionate contribution to growth.”

And don’t worry, even the top tech players like Amazon and Google aren’t slowing down the rise of innovation-based startups, but building one is challenging, and requires substantial growth before being able to make a sustainable revenue. Forbes

Enhancing Defense Health Systems with IT

The Defense Health Agency was created to be a shared services organization, and plans to improve its service delivery system with the help of IT and emerging technologies.

We sat down with Col. Kevin Seeley, acting director of the Health Information Technology Directorate at DHA, to talk about how he sees the agency and IT supporting the course of mission for the Defense Department.

“We are undergoing a massive transformation in the Defense Health Agency to bring the components of the services together to deliver a more integrated system of readiness and health,” Seeley said.

Artificial Intelligence

CXO Tech Forum

And as DHA designs the digital foundation to support better access to care, Seeley said he’s even anticipating artificial intelligence and how it’s currently being used in the health care industry. Eventually, he said AI will make its way to DHA to help with clinical decision support for patients and providers.  

 

DARPA Preps for War in Space… And Other News You May Have Missed

Seriously — last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded BAE Systems with a $12.8 million contract to build a virtual space-battle zone that can help military leaders understand the space environment. DARPA is calling the project “Hallmark testbed.”

The digital lab intends to provide commanders with “space domain awareness in order to quickly assess, plan and execute operations in this increasingly complex environment,” according to Mike Penzo, director of ground resiliency and analytics at BAE Systems.

The lab will also allow leaders to evaluate and integrate the kinds of tech it will need for space command, and gain a situational awareness for all the moving parts and objects in space. In the testbed, the military can practice multidomain operations, like collecting data in space, on land, in the air, at sea and in cyberspace, then combine and analyze the data for space missions. The first phase of the project centers around space situational awareness and command-and-control tech, but DARPA wants to incorporate scenario-based exercises for actually testing the tech against emerging threats. SpaceNews

Artificial Intelligence

CXO Tech Forum

The Church of the AI God  

If you thought Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to humanoid robot Sophia was bizarre, there’s now a religion with artificial intelligence as its god. It’s founded by Anthony Levandowski, a former Google, Waymo and Uber engineer accused of stealing self-driving car secrets for Uber (which he denies). He says the concept of an AI god isn’t that it makes “lightning or causes hurricanes,” but that it’s “a billion times smarter than the smartest human.”

This religion has a church, too. It’s called Way of the Church, and its dedicated to smoothing the transition of who is in charge of the Earth from people, to people and machines; as technology will soon surpass human abilities, according to the church’s website. It’s about integrating machines into society as leaders as they become smarter, giving them the same rights as humans and ultimately succumbing to the fact AI will most likely, probably, take over the world. Cnet.com

A Data-Driven Beer Business

Heineken is using data analytics, the internet of things and AI to improve and accelerate its business. It’s the No. 1  brewer in Europe and second in the world, and it’s looking to increase sales and barrel numbers by applying these method to operations, marketing, advertising and customer experience.

For example, data is helping Heineken forecast and optimize delivery routes, eliminating inefficiencies through its supply chain. Data analytics allows brewers to adjust production when there’s high inventory, long production times or seasonal demand variances.

The company is also exploring IoT in its interactive Ignite bottles. They have 50 components and sensors, like LED lights, that turn beer bottles into connected devices to respond to the beat of music in clubs by reflecting the rhythm, or flickering when it’s tipped back for a drink. Heineken is also dabbling with AI through its IntelligentX program to improve and customize beer recipes by augmenting the brew process with feedback from consumers and data points. Forbes

NASA Builds Most Powerful Space Capsule

And Wired got a behind-the-scenes look. NASA plans to launch Orion, the most powerful rocket ever built, in 2019. It’ll be sent on a 25-day journey, 245,131 miles away from Earth, around the moon and back to Earth’s atmosphere. In the 2020s, NASA wants to repeat this launch with a crew, which would send humans the farthest into space we’ve ever been.

NASA is still developing and testing the rocket, even building little models of it and putting them in wind tunnels, and testing the fuel tanks by mimicking launch and flight with hydraulic cylinders that apply millions of pounds of force. The graphics in the Wired piece show actual images of the rocket being made, the components still in the works and the teams designing them in five different NASA facilities.

Essentially, they’re covering all the necessary processes and procedures on the ground before the rocket goes up. NASA hopes this rocket leads the way in its decades-long effort to send astronauts to Mars and beyond. Wired

Fighting Opioid Epidemic with Digital Pills

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the digital version of the antipsychotic pill Abilify. It has a sensor that communicates with a patch worn on the skin to send medication data to a smartphone app. There’s a similar product not yet on the market with digital prescription opioids that have sensors to alert physicians when their patients take a pill. This can help doctors monitor prescription painkiller use, or overuse.

These are a little different than Abilify. The gel capsules are made by Florida-based company eTextRx, and the pill contains the drug and a radio transmitter the size of a sesame seed. The gel cap dissolves in the stomach, exposing the oxycodone tablet and the transmitter. The transmitter is triggered by stomach acid and sends a signal to an iPod-sized device via a patch on the patient's belly (the device needs to be worn when the pill is swallowed). A message is sent to the cloud, letting the doctor know the pill was taken, and the transmitters eventually come out naturally.

The pill is still being studied, with the next round to include a more sophisticated version of the digital pill detectors. The Verge

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