This year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we witnessed a notable trend occurring. Government agencies from all over the nation, as well as foreign government agencies, were seen at the show. This week, Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov, the Deputy Under Secretary for AI and Technology at the U.S Dept of Energy, joins us on The Killer Innovations Show. We will discuss what the future of AI looks like from the Department of Energy’s side of things.
The Dept of Energy’s Mission
Typically, people don’t notice much of the DOE’s activity in their everyday lives. In reality, the Department of Energy continuously operates from the shadows fixing our nation’s toughest problems. It works in areas that range from the health industry to electrical grids. At its core, the Dept of Energy exists to fix a wide variety of issues by leveraging its innovative capabilities. Dimitri Kusnezov, says that the DOE is the biggest funder of physical sciences in the U.S. They focus on public-private partnerships to accomplish their many goals. The DOE uses connections, as well as advanced innovative technologies, to keep our nation running efficiently.
CES and the Dept of Energy
How does the U.S Department of Energy approach attending a show like CES? Dimitri Kusnezov says that innovation is global. It’s almost anywhere you look, from small and large companies to academia. The DOE needs to identify where the innovation trends are and ask important questions. Who should we talk to? Where should we draw ideas? With the recent “overhype of AI,” the name has been thrown around loosely everywhere.
I asked Dimitri where the DOE stands on AI. Due to the recent birth of Artificial Intelligence, the DOE has kept its feelings of AI open. Dimitri says when it comes to the future of AI, only time will tell. The Dept of Energy looks at specific problems and asks what it will take to best solve them. Something like AI can pose other problems if not approached correctly. AI touches areas such as privacy, civil rights, etc., and can sometimes hint at unintended biases. Who is to blame in touchy situations like these? Is it the guy writing the code? Is it the guy collecting the data? The problem with AI is that no one owns it explicitly. Data confidentiality is a big issue in the technology world today. With the growing potential and use of AI, innovators need to explore what the tech is all about thoroughly.
The Role of AI at the Dept of Energy
What is the role of AI at the Department of Energy? Dimitri Kusnezov says that Washington D.C has recognized the importance and value of AI increasingly over the past couple of years. The DOE has 17 labs and a workforce of around 90,000 people. They have surfaced more than 600 projects in the areas of nuclear weapons, smart cities, cybersecurity, transportation, farming, cancer research, etc.
You’ll be able to see the core of learning and AI technology in many different areas throughout the U.S Department of Energy. With such a large cache of info available, how does the DOE extract actionable data? Dimitri says the DOE focuses on catastrophic events. They use AI and partnering to understand when to make decisions in those high-consequence situations. With such a big organization, how does the Dept of Energy leverage its tools? Dimitri Kusnezov says that the DOE workforce has many different skillsets and a good knowledge of their assets. The DOE has a unique advantage with the ability to simulate very realistic situations. Dimitri says their ability to handle data is unmatched by anyone else.
Advice on AI
What information can you give to other organizations looking into AI? Don’t overthink it, Dimitri says. Currently, AI is in a fragile stage. It is very limited in what it can do. The answer isn’t, “where can I plug in AI?” but rather, “what are the problems you’re trying to solve?”. Which AI methods apply to your problems? Identify what is essential for you and how AI can help you.
When it comes to the government, many innovators either avoid working with them or don’t know where to go to get involved. Where can those who are looking to help find you guys? Dimitri Kusnezov says that the Dept of Energy’s doors are always open. Many companies are stopping by our D.C headquarters and talk to us about various things. We have a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) office as well as other resources for innovators to get involved with us. I encourage innovators to get involved in a public-private partnership to solve government problems, advancing their products along the way. If you are working on something that might be useful to a government agency, I encourage you to reach out.
About our Guest: Dimitri Kusnezov
Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov currently serves as Deputy Under Secretary for A.I. and Technology. Dimitri received A.B. degrees in Physics and Pure Mathematics with highest honors from UC Berkeley. Following a year of research at the Institut fur Kernphysik, KFA-Julich, in Germany, he attended Princeton University earning his MS in Physics and Ph.D. in Theoretical Nuclear Physics. At Michigan State University, Dimitri conducted postdoctoral research and then became an instructor. In 1991, he joined the faculty of Yale University as an assistant professor in physics, becoming an associate professor in 1996. He has served as a visiting professor at numerous universities around the world. Dr. Kusnezov has published over 100 articles and a book. He joined federal service at the National Nuclear Security Administration in late 2001 and is a member of the Senior Executive Service and is also a Visiting Researcher at Yale.
If you’re interested in learning more about the U.S Dept of Energy and what they are currently up to, check out their website here. For small businesses interested in working with the DOE, check out their SBIR program here.
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To learn more about the future of AI at the U.S. Dept of Energy, listen to this week’s show: Dept of Energy on AI and its Impact #CES2020.