• Paul D. Nielsen, director and CEO at Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute, speaks at the AFCEA-GMU Critical Issues in C4I Symposium in May at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
     Paul D. Nielsen, director and CEO at Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute, speaks at the AFCEA-GMU Critical Issues in C4I Symposium in May at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

New Frontiers in Autonomy, Spectrum Management

August 1, 2017
By Julianne Simpson
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Thought leaders take on trusting automated systems and overcoming the bandwidth shortage.


In its ninth iteration, the AFCEA-GMU Critical Issues in C4I Symposium brought together leaders in academia, industry and government in May at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, to address important topics in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) technology. The two-day program focused on increased autonomy and spectrum management, among other subjects.

Autonomous functionality is increasing. The evidence is everywhere, from drones and self-driving cars to voice-controlled devices such as IBM’s Watson and Amazon’s Echo. The key for the military and the defense industry to successfully transition to progressively autonomous systems is trust, said Paul D. Nielsen, director and CEO at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute.

The morning keynote speaker on Day One, Nielsen stressed, “We need to be able to trust that these systems will be safe and serve us.” Trust will remain important even when humans have faith in machines. Eventually these systems will need to trust themselves, trust other systems and trust the humans who created them, he added.

As with autonomous systems, effective spectrum use can aid mission duration and safety, but bandwidth supply cannot keep up with demand. Managing spectrum, much like other national resources such as water, natural gas and land, is a growing problem because of the number of users. Now more than ever, with increasing cybersecurity threats, outlining a national approach to spectrum use is important.

“Spectrum is an essential engine for economic strength driving U.S. leadership domestically and worldwide,” said Maj. Gen. Robert E. Wheeler, USAF (Ret.), during his afternoon keynote address. “It also provides our armed forces the ability to dominate the battlefield in the event of conflict.”

U.S. leadership and economic power is, in part, driven by the ability to move information rapidly and effectively throughout the world. Spectrum is the medium to move the information, but the country has yet to create true maneuverability with it.

“We are not nimble right now with spectrum,” said Paul Tilghman, program manager, Microsystems Technology Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), during his keynote speech on Day Two of the symposium. “We need to move away from worrying about spectrum availability and think about how we can automate it.”

In an effort to overcome this problem, DARPA is hosting the world’s first collaborative machine-intelligence competition to overcome spectrum scarcity, the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2). “The goal is to create a new paradigm that embraces heterogeneity through autonomy,” Tilghman said.

For full coverage as well as slides and videos from the symposium, visit www.afcea.org/event/GMU-Home.

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