Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • We the Geeks Takes a Look at the Future of Computing

    Note: This live event has concluded. Watch the full video below, or on YouTube.

    From early personal computers to the World Wide Web to the tablets and smartphones many Americans hold so closely today, we’ve come a long way in the development of technology for computing devices and it’s safe to say it won’t stop here. This week, all eyes in the tech industry will focus on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show 2014, or CES, where we can peek into the future as new computing breakthroughs will be unveiled and showcased.

    In concert with CES, and building on the moment from December’s Computer Science Education Week, join us on January 8th at 2pm ET for We the Geeks: Future of Computing, as we explore what possibilities the future of computing may bring – from wearables to Holodecks – and what’s needed to get there! 

    Tom Kalil and Cristin Dorgelo from the White House Office of Science and Technology will join Mark Papermaster, Chief Technology Officer at Advanced Micro Devices, Alex Kipman of Microsoft Kinect, Alicia Gibb of the Open Source Hardware Association, and Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus Rift to discuss:

    • What new computing advancements might we see in the next few years? What about 10-15 years from now?
    • What are the technological breakthroughs that need to happen to get there?
    • And finally, what might be the impact of the ever growing intelligent connection of people, processes, data and things?

  • Inaugurating the Wave of the Future


    OSTP Director John P. Holdren delivered remarks at the opening of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division's newly renovated wave testing basin on December 19, 2013. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

    Imagine a giant swimming pool with 12 million gallons of water that in seconds can produce waves matching those found almost anywhere on Earth; reproduce those waves precisely on command; and in less than a minute regain its original placid surface in preparation for a new kind of wave to be generated. This is not a new training site for world-class surfers. It’s a newly renovated facility in West Bethesda, Maryland, called the Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) Basin, where the US Navy will precisely test the performance of advanced ships, submarines, torpedoes and other marine technologies.

    OSTP Director John Holdren joined officials at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division (NSWCCD) yesterday to mark the opening of the renovated MASK Basin facility, among the most advanced in the world. The 360-foot by 240-foot pool, featuring depths of up to 35 feet, will be used to evaluate the maneuverability and stability of precisely engineered scale models up to 30 feet in length. Those models can be towed at a variety of angles at speeds of up to 15 knots—a capacity that promises to reduce development costs and speed the design and deployment of new ships and other advanced systems for the high seas. 

    “There should be absolutely no doubt that the investment the Nation is making here at Carderock in this upgraded facility will pay for itself many times over, as the MASK’s technical capacity gets leveraged with the ingenuity of the Navy scientists and engineers and their partners who will be working here,” Dr. Holdren said at yesterday’s ribbon cutting, which featured a dramatic demonstration of the multiple wave forms the tank is capable of producing. “I want to commend Navy leadership for having the vision—and the perseverance—to ensure completion of this important and exciting project.”

  • Tech vs Trafficking: TechCamp Mexico

    Earlier this month, a group of more than 60 participants from across Mexico and the United States convened in Tlaxcala, Mexico for a two-day “TechCamp” to brainstorm innovative solutions to combat human trafficking.  The workshop brought together expert technologists and civil society organizations that are working with victims on the ground to design low-cost, easy-to-implement tools to combat trafficking. The TechCamp was led by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of eDiplomacy at the U.S. State Department.
    This anti-trafficking TechCamp is part of a series of new commitments launched in September by the Administration to continue the fight against human trafficking.  
    At the kickoff of the workshop, participants convened at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City where we were joined by National Human Rights Commission President Dr. Raul Plascensia, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Advisor Felipe De La Torre, and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne.   
    During the next two-days, participants engaged in interactive training sessions, brainstormed solutions to combat trafficking, and developed projects to assist advocacy organizations and trafficking victims.
    Below are some of the project ideas that were developed throughout the TechCamp:
    Utilize “data scraping” tools to survey local areas and populations to understand which are most affected by trafficking;
    Create an online missing persons database, built using public input that can be submitted anonymously to protect participants, and targeted toward Mexican states that have notoriously high numbers of women and girls sold into the sex trade;  and
    Create a secure online platform that non-government organizations can use to share best practices and protocols for aiding victims, while ensuring the safety of victims and care providers.
    At the conclusion of the TechCamp, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico also committed to invest resources in tools, conferences, and other mechanisms to foster the work that began at the TechCamp.
    These tech camps are just one way that the Administration is leveraging technology to turn the tables on traffickers and provide much-needed services to victims and survivors of modern-day slavery. To learn more about what the President and his administration are doing to combat human trafficking, please visit
    We know there is much work to be done, and we are committed to continuing to bring more groups and individuals into the fight against trafficking so that we can put an end to this injustice both at home and abroad.
    TechCamp Mexico was led by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, in collaboration with UNODC, The White House, and the Office of eDiplomacy at the U.S. State Department.
    Tech vs Trafficking TechCamp

    TechCamp Mexico participants gather for a group photo at the end of the two day session (Photo by U.S. State Department) December 19, 2013.

    For more information on U.S. State Department led TechCamps, please visit
    Vivian Graubard is an Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Pritam Kabe is a Technology Analyst at the Office of eDiplomacy at the U.S. Department of State 

  • PCAST Considers Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Related Technologies in Higher Education

    Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter report to the President about opportunities for advanced education technologies to improve educational outcomes and lower costs in higher education. The report, which builds on insights from PCAST members and additional outside experts, underscores the promise of new high-tech educational tools and advocates for continued experimentation in the education technology domain.

    Access to higher education is an important pathway to success in almost any field. According to a report released earlier this month by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, over the past decade, tuition and fees at public, four-year colleges have risen 5.1% per year faster than the rate of inflation. This troubling trend puts a college education out of reach for many young people in America, especially those from middle-class or low-income families.

    In its new report, PCAST explores the potential of recent advances in technology—with a focus on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)—to expand access to higher education opportunities and to address other challenges facing America’s higher education system.

    PCAST recommends three key steps the Federal Government can take to derive maximum benefits from new education technologies:  

    • Let market forces decide which innovations in online teaching and learning are best.  PCAST discourages the premature imposition of standards and regulations that could impede the power of competitive market forces to spur innovation in the educational technology sector, and recommends that the Federal Government encourage innovation by letting the market for these technologies work.
    • Encourage accrediting bodies to be flexible in response to educational innovation. PCAST recommends that the Federal Government urge regional accrediting entities to be flexible in setting standards for online degrees to accommodate new pedagogical approaches and to avoid stunting the growth of a burgeoning industry.
    • Support research and the sharing of results on effective teaching and learning. PCAST advocates for more research into how technology can best foster learning for the broadest possible range of students, taking advantage of the data-collection features of new high-tech tools. PCAST also calls for the development of a national exchange mechanism for these data to accelerate research and enable adaptation of teaching to suit the various types of learners.

  • NIH Announces $40M in Research Funding Opportunities to Advance the Administration's BRAIN Initiative

    Today, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it is releasing solicitations that will provide $40 million in research funding to advance the Administration’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which President Obama unveiled on April 2, 2013. 

    As President Obama noted at a White House launch event, the goal of the BRAIN Initiative is to give “scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember.”  This initiative will not only improve our understanding of the how the brain works, it also promises to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases of the brain.

    The new solicitations will provide funding for researchers to:

    • Generate an inventory of the different types of cell types in the brain;
    • Develop new tools to analyze the complex circuits that are responsible for brain function by delivering  genes, proteins and chemicals to particular cells;
    • Develop new approaches to record the activity of large numbers of neurons in any location in the brain, and improve existing technologies so they can be widely adopted by neuroscientists;
    • Understand large-scale neural circuits by integrating experimental, analytical, and theoretical approaches; and
    • Form teams to develop the next generation of non-invasive imaging technologies.

    These solicitations support many of the research topics identified as priorities by an NIH working group on the BRAIN Initiative composed of leading neuroscientists, co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia Bargmann (Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University).  This working group is expected to submit its final report in the summer of 2014.

  • Building the Evidence Base for What Works

    In his FY 2014 budget message, President Obama called for “the use of evidence and evaluation to ensure we are making smart investments with our scarce taxpayer dollars.” His message reflects a broad Administration commitment to promote evidence-based policy reform. A number of signature policy initiatives reflect this focus, including innovation funds such as the Social Innovation Fund and the Investing in Innovation Fund; Pay for Success investment models; and efforts to increase funding for programs rooted in evidence such as high-quality home visiting programs or new models of teen pregnancy prevention.

    In July, the Office of Management and Budget and other White House offices delivered a memorandum to the heads of Federal agencies entitled Next Steps in the Evidence and Innovation Agenda. The memo provides guidance for advancing evidence-based practices across the Federal Government as part of the FY 2015 budget process and underscores the importance of “strengthening agencies’ abilities to continually improve program performance by applying existing evidence about what works.”

    For these efforts to succeed, policy officials need scientifically valid, rigorous methods to evaluate the effectiveness of social programs. For example, the Administration’s “tiered evidence” initiatives provide small grants for new ideas worth trying, medium-sized grants to rigorously evaluate promising approaches, and large grants that scale-up interventions built on a strong evidence base.  The pursuit of evidence-based policy requires that the Federal Government produce accurate, unbiased answers about whether a program or practice is producing its intended effect—whether the goal is to improve student educational outcomes, reduce homelessness, lower recidivism rates, or any of a number of other desired outcomes. Equally important, these methods must be practical to use and without major administrative burdens or costs, so they can help solve a broad range of societal problems without undue burden on taxpayers.

    Well-conducted randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely regarded as the most scientifically-credible means of evaluating the impact of programs operating at scale. That’s why we’re excited about a competition the nonprofit, nonpartisan Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is running, with funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The competition aims to identify and fund the strongest approaches to conducting low-cost RCTs that have demonstrated potential to help pave the way to a more effective, less costly government.