Tech gaps at US border exacerbated by talent shortage, experts say

The U.S. government is increasingly considering autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies for national security operations along the border. The recently passed $1.5 trillion omnibus appropriations bill includes $200 million to expand standalone monitoring solutions for border security and $21 million in additional funding to continue to operate existing freestanding surveillance towers.

Advanced technology products and services are a high priority for US national security agencies; but despite increases in funding, federal leaders are still struggling to bring these technologies into use due to gaps that ultimately boil down to a lack of qualified and untapped talent.

Specifically, countertop UAS systems across the border need multimodal enhancements that require a high level of software and algorithm knowledge, according to Jared Orendirector of the test and evaluation division of the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory under the science and technology directorate of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Individual sensors are capable in many ways,” Oren said during the Border Protection Innovations and Technologies Forum 2022 hosted by the Potomac Officers Club. “There is limited interaction and automated interaction between sensors that detect different signatures, characteristics, or challenges in the environment.”

“So there are a lot of challenges in developing software and algorithms to improve in this area of ​​multimodal fusion,” he explained.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also finding technology gaps in its Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems (NIIS) program, which supports its “port of the future” concept with increased screening capabilities. driving at US ports of entry.

“Our biggest technology gap is artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said CBP’s NIIS acquisition program manager. Archie Williams.

Williams said the primary goal of the NIIS program is to increase detection efficiency, which primarily relies on the efficiency of detection algorithms that use AI/ML technology.

These barriers are similarly reflected throughout DHS. Oren mentioned that the agency’s law enforcement and first responder customers are increasingly looking for fast, high-accuracy mapping, persistent surveillance, and semi-autonomous robotics capabilities, which come with their own AI/ML challenges.

Academia has also noticed the boom in AI across a myriad of industries and organizations. “We see that artificial intelligence and machine learning are impacting almost every branch of knowledge,” shared Dr Eric Pattersonexecutive director of the National Security Institute at Virginia Tech.

the National Security Institute occupies a “single space” at the intersection of workforce development and research execution. Dr. Patterson said the National Security Institute expects to produce 750 master’s candidates a year, making it the largest computer science and computer engineering program in the nation; but even that figure is “probably nowhere near enough to fill the national demand signal.”

“It’s a bit of a crisis, by my assessment,” Dr. Patterson said. “It really is a situation where everyone is on deck,” he warned, stressing the importance of industry partnerships in building a workforce capable of responding to critical and urgent needs. in matters of national security.

A different approach to education may also be needed, Dr. Patterson suggested. He noted that as an educator, he can’t teach his students how to use a tool that doesn’t yet exist, but could emerge as critical new technology in the years to come. However, he can teach students how to deal with uncertainty as this new tool emerges and changes.

Dr. Patterson said we should “educate students to holistically manage the complexities of the future” rather than overemphasizing technology whose role may grow or decline in the federal landscape as it evolves. over time.

The Potomac Officers Club Border Protection Innovations and Technologies Forum 2022 is available to watch on demand now.

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