Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, and members of the Committee thank you for the opportunity to testify today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on the role of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in promoting U.S. leadership in the “Industries of the Future.” NIST’s core mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness. We constantly target our research programs towards the emerging technologies that will have the greatest impact in advancing the competitive position of the United States. As such, over the past years NIST has prioritized the work of its programs in Quantum Information Science, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, Advanced Manufacturing, and Biotechnology, the areas that today are collectively referred to as the Industries of the Future. Today, I look forward to highlighting the unique mission and role that NIST plays in all of these areas to meet our Nation’s measurement and technology needs of the future. As I begin, I would also express my thanks to this Committee for your work on behalf of NIST, its people, programs, and facilities.
Preparing for the Future
Since its founding more than a century ago, NIST has solved the most pressing measurement and technical challenges the Nation has faced. From helping standardization of methods and materials for mass production techniques introduced during World War I to the invention of the world’s first atomic clock to studying the collapse of the World Trade Centers on 9/11, NIST has advanced U.S. industry and security. Today, NIST is providing measurement tools and standards to strengthen our nation’s competitiveness and security in areas that affect Americans’ daily lives.
To continue to be a bedrock of innovation, NIST must continue to reinforce its core competencies and grow new capabilities over the next decade. In planning for the capabilities that NIST will need to best support the nation over the next 10-15 years, we have examined a number of societal trends and potential emerging technological disruptions that could impact the competitiveness of the U.S. What systems will emerge that will require expanded cybersecurity and privacy capabilities? What technologies are likely to change the way cryptography works? What novel products will U.S. manufacturers make, and what new technologies must they use to be competitive? What technological advances will NIST be able to capitalize on to transform and enhance its mission delivery? These questions have shaped NIST’s planning and programmatic investments for the future.
NIST worked with stakeholders across government, industry, and academia to find opportunities for greatest impact. The Industries of the Future (specifically Quantum Information Science, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, Advanced Manufacturing, and Biotechnology) were all identified as technological domains that have the potential to transform U.S. manufacturing, communications, health care, transportation, and beyond. These areas will also present NIST new challenges and opportunities to develop new measurement capabilities and other methods to secure and protect the Nation’s economic and national security. In addition, NIST is leading a national initiative, in coordination with all federal science and technology agencies, toward modernizing how we transfer technologies arising from federally funded research at this Nation’s research institutes and universities. In this era of global competition, it is imperative that the U.S. must create even greater impacts for our citizens and the American economy from the nation’s research enterprise.
This work on the NIST Return on Investment Initiative is summarized in our Green Paper issued in April 2019. I am grateful to this Committee for your support to ensure the U.S. ultimately leads in the Industries of the Future. Today, I look forward to highlighting NIST’s plans and accomplishments in each of the critical technology domains:
Quantum Information Science
Advances in quantum technologies, including quantum information science, have the potential to transform and revolutionize computing, medicine, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, communications, national defense, and more. Capturing these economic and national security opportunities will require continued sustained investment and improved technology transfer efficiency to ensure U.S. leadership, especially given that other nations have stepped up their quantum-focused programs and investments as well. NIST plays a central role in this critical race for quantum leadership.
NIST is a recognized world leader in the field of quantum science and technology, including four Nobel Prizes awarded to NIST scientists for their discoveries in this field. NIST has been a strong contributor in the National Quantum Initiative. Our expertise in quantum draws directly from our mission to make the most precise and accurate physical measurements possible. Over the last quarter century, NIST has shaped an entire generation of quantum science. A significant portion of today’s quantum scientists have trained in NIST laboratories. NIST’s research to develop a measurement infrastructure has enabled quantum information science to advance to where we are today. Consider just a few recent NIST achievements:
This past summer—for the first time in history—NIST scientists teleported a computer circuit instruction between two separated ions. This foundational work opens the door to quantum computer programs that can carry out tasks in future large-scale quantum networks.
The expertise of NIST scientists and the unique capabilities of our facilities are leveraged closely with partners in academia through NIST’s network of joint institutes -- with JILA, our joint institute at the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS) with the University of Maryland. These institutes have driven numerous breakthroughs in fundamental quantum research and have helped trained the next generation of researchers in this emerging field. Together these capabilities make NIST a true hub of quantum-based innovation.
As the U.S. research enterprise works to realize the potential breakthroughs of quantum information science, opportunities for new quantum technologies are emerging that take advantage of the unusual rules that govern the behavior of the fundamental components of matter. NIST is developing robust quantum engineering capabilities for researchers to rapidly create, test, and validate the performance of quantum technology platforms. Building on our expertise in quantum science, nanoscale fabrication, and semiconductor characterization, NIST is focused on creating these measurement capabilities to serve as the building blocks and the basis of standards for future quantum technologies that the U.S. requires to achieve and to lead the world in “quantum supremacy.”
Building out this quantum engineering infrastructure will require close partnership and collaboration with industry. To further these efforts, last year NIST established the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QEDC) in partnership with SRI International, headquartered in Menlo Park, CA. The QEDC brings together players from across industry with the goal to expand U.S. leadership in global quantum R&D and the emerging quantum industry in computing, communications, and sensing.
With funding from both the government and private-sector member organizations, the QEDC will:
Looking forward, over the coming years NIST will focus a portion of its quantum research portfolio on the grand challenge of quantum networking. Serving as the basis for secure and highly efficient quantum information transmission that links together multiple quantum devices and sensors, quantum networks will be a key element in the long-term evolution of quantum technologies.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has long been a strategic priority for NIST, also representing a toolkit to remarkably enhance productivity across all areas of our research and development, as well as toward advanced manufacturing applications. An important goal for NIST is to develop the foundation for confidence and trust in AI that results in new research outcomes and an expanded commercial marketplace. International investment in AI is also exploding, and companies, governments and policy makers around the globe are seeking answers that can provide greater confidence in AI technologies. NIST’s study and deployment of AI methods, tools, and standards can provide the basis for confidence and trust that is essential for adoption of these technologies.
NIST has made significant contributions to the fields of machine learning (ML) and AI over the years. For example, the MNIST database, a dataset of handwritten digits, is among the most widely used standardized datasets in the U.S. and around the world for training and testing AI systems. NIST scientists worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop and deploy smartphone-based systems that enabled U.S. marines to seamlessly converse with native Pashto speaking Afghans. These technology developments have also facilitated rapid commercialization of phone-based voice translation systems such as Microsoft Bing and Google Translate.
Today, NIST’s efforts in AI are focused along three primary areas of effort:
First, NIST is addressing fundamental questions about the use of AI. NIST has launched an effort to convene the community around key concepts of trustworthy AI, seeking to develop ways to measure, define, and characterize concepts around the accuracy, reliability, privacy, robustness, and explainability of AI systems. Some examples of NIST work in this space include:
Secondly, NIST is heavily engaged in using AI across its research portfolio in a host of areas including biometrics, advanced materials discovery, smart manufacturing systems, and the design and characterization of engineered biological systems as just a few examples. Additionally, the outputs of NIST research in general, especially in the terms of well-characterized data sets, as well as our work in advanced microelectronic systems, will help advance the field of AI. These tools will enable researchers to better train and understand AI systems, including the design and manufacture of next-generation hardware required to reliably and safely run AI systems. Some recent examples of NIST effort in this space include:
Finally, standards engagement is a key element of NIST’s mission, and we are deeply involved in multiple standards development bodies around the world. We are working with industry, government, and academia to establish governing principles and develop standards and identify best practices for the design, construction, and use of AI systems. It is vitally important for the U.S. to have a strong, persuasive, and consistent voice with the relevant standards organizations around the world.
NIST’s capabilities, ranging from fundamental research to the delivery of the technical foundations of emerging technologies, make it a valuable asset in establishing and maintaining U.S. leadership in AI technologies.
5G and Advanced Communication
Advanced communications are enabling dramatic changes in how consumers, manufacturers, governments and others provide and consume information, transact business, provide and use essential services, and shop, among other tasks. Gartner, a leading research an analytics company forecasted that there will be over 20 billion connected devices by 2020, and other forecasts have projected continued growth with numbers ranging from 60 to75 billion connected devices by 2025. This insatiable societal demand for connectivity will require significant advancements in communication technologies.
The Administration’s multifaceted 5G efforts are being led by Director Larry Kudlow of the National Economic Council, and within that framework, NIST is playing a vital role. NIST’s programs in advanced communications support secure, reliable, high-speed wireless, and wireline communications critical to U.S. economic competitiveness, safety, and security. NIST measurement science research and support for the development of standards accelerates the deployment of next-generation communication technologies that promise to be faster and more reliable, including fifth-generation wireless networks. These technologies will support self-driving cars, internet of things (IoT) applications, drones, and future AI systems. NIST is committed to solving the measurement and deployment challenges of this fast-moving field to help the U.S. achieve and maintain global leadership in these areas, and also to help U.S. industry establish manufacturing capabilities needed for domestic market supply. The NIST portfolio of activities focused on advanced communications includes:
Some examples of how NIST is driving strengthened national capabilities in the areas of 5G and other advanced communications technologies include:
A strong U.S. manufacturing sector is essential to our economic security and national security. As the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy1 states, “Support for a vibrant domestic manufacturing sector, a solid defense industrial base, and resilient supply chains is a national priority.” American manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016. Manufacturing plays an outsized role in our economy because of its high economic multiplier effect: U.S. manufacturing supports trillions of dollars of production in other parts of the economy by purchasing from and selling to over 80 other industries.
A partner to the U.S. manufacturing sector for more than a century, NIST has a proven track record in delivering useful tools and technical assistance that both existing manufacturers and aspiring start-ups value. NIST’s measurement research in manufacturing processes and advanced materials provides a foundation that helps the nation’s manufacturers to invent, innovate and create new products and services more rapidly and more efficiently than their competitors around the world. Through targeted research across a broad portfolio of technologies impacting manufacturing from advanced materials to smart manufacturing systems, NIST helps ensure that the U.S. remains a competitive force in advanced manufacturing to ensure our economic and national security. Our partnerships with large and small manufacturers, federal agencies, and academic institutions help us anticipate and meet the needs of rapidly evolving manufacturing industries.
The NIST laboratory programs in support of advanced manufacturing, ranging from work on materials design and discovery to the use of collaborative robots in factories, to biomanufacturing and standards for data exchange and processing information. Examples of some of NIST’s work include:
In addition to the output of NIST’s research programs, NIST’s extramural programs, which include Manufacturing USA help U.S. industry develop and implement new technology, develop robust supply chains, and refine their systems for efficiency and effectiveness, all while making them more competitive in the global economy.
As a whole, this suite of programs and investments across our laboratory research and extramural programs is an essential set of resources for the Nation’s advanced manufacturing enterprise.
In August 2019, the President named the bioeconomy as one of the three R&D priorities for FY2021 under the main priority of American Heath & Bioeconomic Innovation.
A key factor in unleashing the full potential of the bioeconomy will be the ability to harness the power of complex biological systems (primarily cells) in a predictable and safe way for the manufacture of advanced therapeutics, sustainable fuels, chemical feedstocks, and advanced materials. Remarkable progress has been made in this field throughout the last decade, particularly with respect to genome read, write, and edit technologies, but there is still a widely recognized need for measurements and standards to enable better predictive engineering, and to support reliable and safe translation of engineered biological systems into products and other use cases.
To support the U.S. bioeconomy, NIST is building next-generation measurement science (biometrology) capabilities and engineering biology laboratories for accelerating responsible biotechnology innovations. Along with supporting basic technology research and development, NIST helps facilitate the translation of technologies to scale through global standardization efforts and partnerships with industry. As metrology is central and essential to all engineering biology research, NIST also plays a significant role in convening stakeholders to discuss challenges and solutions as the field moves forward. NIST plays a key role in developing techniques, standards and reference materials used as benchmarks for manufacturing process control and product quality assurance, in order to facilitate commerce for the bioeconomy. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), the Manufacturing USA institute sponsored by NIST with the University of Delaware, and its participants benefit directly from this work. Recent highlights of NIST work in this field include:
With increased support NIST can continue to provide the necessary measurement and standards capabilities and infrastructure that will be required to unlock the full potential of the U.S. bioeconomy.
I trust that the examples I have shared today clearly highlight both the importance of the Industries of the Future to our economic and national security, as well as the critical roles that NIST is playing to enable U.S. competitiveness. NIST must continue to play these roles effectively in partnership with industry, academia, and federal government agencies to help ensure that the U.S. is best positioned to take full advantage of the transformational potential represented by Quantum Information Science, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, Advanced Manufacturing, and Biotechnology. With NIST’s dedicated technical staff, one-of-a-kind facilities, and non-regulatory role, we are well positioned to have an outsized impact in each of these critical areas that promise significant benefit to the U.S. economy, our quality of life, and national security. With the continued support of this Committee, NIST will continue to thrive in its important mission to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness. Thank you and I would be happy to answer any questions the Committee Members may have.
1 National Security Strategy published December 2017: https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Fin….