Seeking Semantics in Government

Anyone who uses Twitter and has to cram thoughts in to 140 characters knows that technology doesn’t always mix well with “semantic meaning.” That reminds me of an old Hollywood story (here’s a version from Wikipedia):

Cary Grant is said to have been reluctant to reveal his age to the public, having played the youthful lover for more years than would have been appropriate. One day, while he was sorting out some business with his agent, a telegram arrived from a journalist who was desperate to learn how old the actor was. It read: HOW OLD CARY GRANT?

Grant, who happened to open it himself, immediately cabled back: OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?

WashTechWashington Technology magazine has a long (overly long) feature today about semantic computing, entitled “Open Government Looks for New Technologies.”  It has nothing to do with Cary Grant, but I have a few minor quibbles with the article (written by a freelancer from New York).

The premise is in the subhead: “Web 3.0 could help make Obama’s dream of government transparency a reality.”  The article goes on to give a basic – very basic – primer on semantic tagging and its potential application in government uses. Underline that word, “potential.”

Aside from the new Data.gov website’s use of minimal Dublin-Core metadata, there’s no actual government use cited. In fact, despite the premise, the article actually contains more evidence that government agencies are actively shying away from adopting semantic approaches. A spokesperson for GSA is typical, saying only that ““We are monitoring the situation as the technology matures; it is not factoring into our business requirements at this point.”  And a spokesperson for the site at www.Recovery.gov, now controversial for the manner in which it was contracted out, says they are “focusing on other priorities.” 

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Social Media goes hyper local for emergencies

For the past year, whenever my group has had government visitors to Microsoft labs in Redmond to see advanced technologies, we’ve considered whether or not to show them a demo of a particular “secret project” being developed, now called Microsoft Vine.

vineIf the group was with local or state government, or related to homeland security, or emergency responders and the like, the answer was easier, because that’s the sweet spot it’s designed for.

But I was always tempted to show it even to my federal government friends – and anyone else – just because it’s so impressive!

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DHS Job Opening for Cyber Security CTO

There’s been much press attention to the promised new position of “Federal Chief Technology Officer” in the new Obama Administration, but the government has another vitally important CTO opening, and the job advertisement just got posted.

Agency: Department Of Homeland Security, DHS Headquarters
Sub Agency: National Cyber Security Center
Job Announcement Number: CHCO-08-055DHS
Title: Chief Technology Officer
Salary Range: 117,787.00 – 177,000.00 USD
Series & Grade: [Senior Executive Service] ES-2210-00/00
Duty Location: Washington DC Metro Area, DC

   – USAJOBS.com listing 

 

dhs-logo1I received an email last week from a DHS friend quietly asking that I “publicize” the listing once it was posted, which was scheduled to be last week.  I checked for it online Friday – the first day applications were to be accepted – but must have looked too early for I didn’t see it listed.  That’s understandable, given the holidays, so I checked again last night, prompted by a note from Bob Gourley of CrucialPoint, and the listing was live.

The listing has an application deadline of Thursday, January 15, 2009, so if you’re interested in applying you had better get cracking.

Let’s look at a couple of the specific points mentioned in the job announcement. Continue reading

Some say Obama has already chosen Cyber Czar

I’ll wade into the breach again, of analyzing (and trying to anticipate) some national-security appointments for the new Obama Administration.  Today I must admit that I’m taken with the latest reportage from the U.K. Spectator – a quite conservative publication not usually known for its closeness to the Obama inner circle.

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Research and Intelligence … Research for Intelligence

I’ll be at Penn State University for the next couple of days, at the Research in American conference.  This particular conference, with the theme “Connecting Technology Thought Leaders with Government Officials,” is sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, focusing on their Science and Technology area. 

Here’s the agenda for the conference, which has an excellent lineup of technologists presenting their approaches and progress. 

ODNI turned to the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) to host and run the conference.  Someone, somewhere in the chain, slipped up and invited me as the Keynote speaker for Tuesday – I’m planning to do the thing with no slides and to speak (in part) about the emerging possibilities of revolutionary research in a post Web 2.0 world.

For some sobering background information,  check out a recent tour of the research-funding horizon by Amy Ellis Nutt in the New Jersey Star-Ledger (“As research funds stagnate, science in state of crisis“).  Here’s a taste:

Once the world’s gold standard, American scientific enterprise is in free fall. Short of government funds and strapped for cash, researchers across the country are abandoning promising avenues of scientific investigation and, increasingly, the profession of science itself.” – Amy Ellis Nutt, The Star-Ledger

Do you share that pessimism?  Think it’s overstated?

I’ll give an update about the conference tomorrow.

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How to Find Research: Here, There, Everywhere

FACT: The Washington Post today has a story in the Business section (“Intelligence Agency Joins U-Md. Research Center“) about the relationship between IARPA and the University of Maryland, the location of the planned new IARPA headquarters. 

ANALYSIS: UMd has a set of valuable relationships with the public- and private-sector national security community, and the IARPA startup is just the latest agency to benefit.   Proximity is key, for research and bureaucracy.  In Maryland’s case, IARPA Director Lisa Porter told an IEEE interviewer last month that “It’s nice not to be sitting right next to one particular agency. It’s also nice to be near a university because we’re sending a message that we want to bring in nontraditional partners: academia, industry. It sends a nice message that we’re embracing the broad community to help us solve these challenging problems.”

I lament sometimes that Charlottesville (home to my undergraduate alma mater) is a good two hours away from DC, as even that distance puts a frustrating limit on the amount of joint work that winds up being done with Virginia faculty and students. 

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Pentagon’s New Program for Innovation, in Context

FACT: According to an article in today’s Washington Post, the Pentagon has announced “the selection of six university professors who will form the first class of the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows Program. The professors will receive grants of up to $600,000 per year for up to five years to engage in basic research — essentially a bet by the Pentagon that they will make a discovery that proves vital to maintaining the superiority of the U.S. military.”

ANALYSIS: This new program is an innovation from DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), and since tomorrow I’ll be at Ft. McNair for a two-day conference sponsored by DDR&E on Strategic Communications, I’ll congratulate John Young and his staff for the good idea.

But the Post article falls short in two ways: one immediate (it leaves out key information about next year’s program and the upcoming deadline!) and one longer-term (it ignores the overall context of federal support for R&D).  I’ll fill in the blanks below.

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