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Constellation National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator Interview Summary

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Ben Jorgensen, CEO of Constellation Network, recently sat down with Doug Maughan to ask Doug some interesting questions about his work, the progression of innovative technology and how Constellation can fit in. 

Doug is the Office Head for the Convergence Accelerator at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Doug has worked with the Federal Government for 32 years. Before the NFS doug worked at the National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and also at the Department of Homeland Security where he lead cybersecurity initiatives with the Silicon Valley Innovation Program. He has been funding research, mostly in the area of cyber security, for 30 years. 

You can listen to the entire interview here. Alternatively, we have collated some of Doug’s key points from the video below. 

Funding innovative technology research with the NSF

  • Over 25 years Doug has managed over a billion dollars of research and development, primarily for cyber security. 70-75 technologies have come out of the pipelines that Doug has been involved in.
  • The NSF is one of the largest government agencies that is funding non-medical science research. Doug is an office head for a new structure called the convergence accelerator which is funding applied research. This means taking the results of basic research and moving that forward into prototypes and usable products. 
  • Traditionally the NSF funds single investigator grants like academia, PhD students, professors. Instead, the convergence accelerator is funding team based projects. The funding is for accelerating basic research into applied research to generate results. The teams get up to $1m for the planning and $5m for execution.
  • The teams must be multi disciplined e.g. teams with computer scientists, anthropologists, economists, sociologists, engineers, psychologists. This ensures different viewpoints that can help solve big problems. Non profits or local governments are required to be part of the research team too to ensure there are real solutions at the end. 
  • The accelerator forces industry (enterprise and for profit entities) participation. Academics aren’t well suited to take products all the way to product use. The two sides working together helps make it more successful.
  • The NSF is all about the public good and national security. It is a success if the research makes it out into the market and people are using it.

Technology developments and cyber security 

  • Over the past 20 years tech has developed in a big way. More recently technology has been developed more by industry than government. 30-40 years ago technology was mostly developed by the Government and now it is mostly developed by industries. 
  • The “bad guys” are innovative. It’s tough to keep ahead of them. Industries and governments are starting to work together more, which is important for future cybersecurity measures. 
  • In cybersecurity, the user has been forgotten, but actually the majority of the problems in this world are generated by the user. It’s the user that clicks on a link that brings in malware. Many solutions are developed by scientists and engineers, but humans are now entering the discussion – which is great. We need to think about how the user uses the technology and stop them from doing something bad. 
  • Additionally, we need to equip digital engineers with the right tools to create secure digital infrastructure and safeguard the end user. 

The developing workforce

  • The NSF has a project called ‘the future of work at the human technology frontier’, which looks at where humans interact with technology and how it contributes to their work environment. 
  • The aim is to create tools that will help the next generation of the workforce. What will their work environment look like with new technologies? Will it change from how it is now and what tech will we need to have available for them?
  • Two interesting projects mentioned:
    1) The autism workforce is underemployed. The NSF is looking to see what tech can be used to help them get and keep a job and take advantage of their skills.
    2) The hospitality industry is people centered, but if things change and there is more automation, research is required to find out what technologies will be shared with the workforce so they are equipped to work with new technologies. 
  • We must keep work forces trained and educated with new technologies. One initiative of NSF is looking at, is how to help employers of the future will educate existing employees with advancements in technology. Technology advancements dictate that jobs will change fast so work forces need to be continually learning to help themselves and the company.

Big data

  • Program name is ‘harnessing the data revolution’. 
  • There is a data revolution, more and more data is available every day. The NSF looks at it as an open knowledge network. More and more workers are becoming involved in data science so they need to have access and be able to protect data. 
  • However, data security requires improvement.  Security naturally concerns Doug due to his background. How can we make data available to the right people without removing protections? If data is compromised in some way then algorithms are wrong and entire systems and processes are meaningless. We need big data security. 
  • The NSF looks at a range of use cases. For example, floods occur across the globe and all the time. Data science, the skill set around big data, addresses the question “how do you gather the data and make it available so everyone can access it to predict and defend against attacks. 
  • Similarly, with the energy grid there are global energy outages occuring all of the time. The NSF explores ways that industry can tackle power outages, optimize the power grid (redistribution of energy), predict outages and shutdowns, and defend the infrastructure. 

Blockchain, Constellation and the NSF

  • The Department of Homeland Security homeland has funded blockchain and identity technologies for Homeland applications. 
  • To date, blockchain hasn’t made it to the convergence accelerator. However, Doug suspects that in the next year or two it will happen. Blockchain brings some viable scalable solutions to data management, data science and data security options to the table.
  • “Constellation is welcome to ‘come and play’ with the NSF”, quotes Doug Maughan. Constellation is an innovative approach to big data and data security and are welcome at the NSF table. 
  • The Constellation community can get involved too! Constellation will be informed about the accelerators solicitation of the next round which will come out within the next six weeks. The DAG community will also be able to submit ideas and the accelerator will fund community workshops to help develop ideas. 
Alex Aves
Alex is a crypto enthusiast that has been enthralled with the crypto space for over two years now. He currently works in the marketing team for Liquid, one of the leading crpytocurrency exchanges.

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