Human elements technology closer to reality

By Kristen Kushiyama, CERDECFebruary 1, 2012

Human Elements Research
Dave Hairston, Research, Development and Engineering Command Army Research Laboratory neuroscientist, places a sensor on Ralph Veney, an intelligence specialist and Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, I... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 26, 2012) -- Approximately 60 representatives from Department of Defense organizations, national organizations and academia met last month to discuss current human elements research and breakthroughs to determine areas of shared interest in the organizations.

The National Security Agency, or NSA, sponsored a Department of Defense research symposium called "The Human Element," at the U.S. Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or RDECOM CERDEC, here, to provide an opportunity for people working in biometrics, brain/computer interface and interaction, and human language technology to discuss near and short term techniques and concepts.

Shared effort and shared resources were certainly key considerations for the symposium, said Ralph Veney, CERDEC Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate's, or I2WD's, liaison officer at NSA.

"In a day of diminishing resources it is essential we are good stewards of government money and reach across organizations to leverage the work being done by peers and minimize unnecessary duplication," he said.

This is the fourth symposium hosted by NSA, and the second at CERDEC I2WD, where professionals have gathered to interact on a specific topic.

"There has been a lot of time spent talking about cyber over the past few years and less time discussing the distant, though not too distant, future where the human being becomes part of the network," said Melvin R. Currie, research advocate at NSA who organized and chose the topics the event.

Measuring brain activity, utilizing iris scans to log into computers and identifying people by their voices all fall under the human elements category, said Currie.

Some applications of human elements exist but most are not commercially viable.

"Movies portray and assume high levels of voice recognition and high levels of biometrics are used, but they are not necessarily here today in their final form," said Thomas H. Killion, director of Biometric Identity Management Agency and former Chief Scientist of the Army.

At this point there are no strategic level plans and most of the work is being done "researcher to researcher at a grass roots level" where the large focus is on the academics of biometrics, said Currie.

Research based on the human element doesn't appear to be disappearing and young people should be encouraged to engage in researching these topics, said Killion.

The brain-computer interface in terms of processing and understanding what people are thinking about and the tools of measuring the electromagnetic functions of the brain is a great challenge for young people to come up with and use breaking edge technologies, said Killion.

"There is a lot of work being done in academics," said Currie. "Deans hatch strategies and organize groups among similar areas of research. We in government also need to foster research in this way."

Government organizations are looking to universities for help, as many of the researchers in the human elements field come from academia.

During the symposium new linkages were established by organizations that were unaware previously that complementary work was being done by others, said Veney.

John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and RDECOM Army Research Laboratory symposium participants expressed a strong interest in beginning collaborative efforts between the two organizations on an area of mutual interest they discovered during the symposium.

Additional relationships in the area of human elements were formed also as a result of the symposium, and it was determined that there is a need to conduct follow-up talks in each of the three areas, said Veney.

CERDEC I2WD and NSA will be looking to collaborate on specific areas of shared interest with biometrics, while ARL and NSA will explore collaboration in areas of mutual interest and the potential for information exchanges related to human language technology.

It was realized during a lab demo for the Distributed Common Ground Sensors-Army that capabilities exist at another agency that could be of interest to DCGS technology development, said Veney.

Participating entities will continue to work together to move forward on human elements research. A future symposium may be used to continue the momentum and advance human elements technology, said Veney.

The interactions and relationships developed among researchers from different organizations are the real benefits of these symposiums. These relationships have proven themselves to be long lasting and have generated numerous collaborative efforts among organizations beyond the topics of the symposiums, said Paul Zablocky, CERDEC I2WD's chief scientist.

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