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In a memo from March 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin outlined new mandates for the Department of Defense to modernize, encourage innovation and “invest smartly for the future” in order to meet the dynamic threat landscape of the modern world. Writing in the same memo, he acknowledged that this goal cannot be met without the cooperation of stakeholders from across the board, including private industries and academic institutions.

In keeping with that priority, on April 5, 2022, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and her team joined a cross-departmental roundtable of faculty and students to hear more about Stanford's efforts to bring Silicon Valley-style innovation to projects at the Department of Defense and its interagencies.

These students are working under the umbrella of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation (GKC), a new program at the Center for International Cooperation and Security (CISAC) at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). GKC aims to coordinate resources at Stanford, peer universities, and across Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem in order to provide cutting-edge national security education and train national security innovators.


This is a great place to be doing this. Here in Silicon Valley, there’s a huge amount of opportunity and ecosystem available across both Stanford and the broader research community and commercial sector.
Kathleen Hicks
Deputy Secretary of Defense

At the core of GKC is a series of classes and initiatives that combine STEM skills with policy know-how in a way that’s meant to encourage students to leverage entrepreneurship and innovation in order to develop rapid, scalable solutions to national security issues. Students from both undergraduate and graduate level programs, regardless of their prior experience in national defense, are encouraged to participate.

“We’re really trying to empower students to pursue national security-relevant work while they’re here at Stanford,” explains Joe Felter, GKC’s director, co-founder, and senior research scholar at CISAC. FSI and CISAC have deep roots in this type of innovative, interdisciplinary approach to policy solutions GKC is working to implement. Michael McFaul, FSI’s director, is a founding faculty member and principal investigator for GKC, and David Hoyt, the assistant director of GKC, is an alumnus of the CISAC honors program.

Results from GKC’s classes have been very encouraging so far. Working through "Hacking for Defense," a GKC-affiliated class taught out of the MS&E department, Jeff Jang, a new Defense Innovation Scholar and MBA student, showed how implementing a rapid interview process and focusing on problem and customer discovery has allowed his team to create enterprise software for United States Air Force (USAF) fleet management that has vastly improved efficiency, reduced errors and enabled better planning capabilities into the workflow. Their product has been given numerous grants and awards, and the team has received signed letters of interest from 29 different USAF bases across the world.

In another GKC class, "Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition,” Abeer Dahiya and Youngjun Kwak, along with Mikk Raud, Dave Sprague and Miku Yamada — three students from FSI’s Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Policy program (MIP) — have been tackling the challenges involved in developing a domestic U.S. semiconductor strategy. They were among the student teams asked to present the results of their work to Dep. Sec. Hicks during her visit.

“Attending this class has been one of the highlights of my time at Stanford,” says Mikk Raud (MIP ‘22). “It’s been a great example of how important it is to run interdisciplinary courses and bring people from different fields together.”

He continues, “As a policy student, it was very insightful for me to learn from my peers from different programs, as well as make numerous visits to the engineering quad to speak to technical professors whom I otherwise would have never met. After meeting with and presenting to Deputy Secretary Hicks and hearing about the work other students are doing, it really hit home to me that the government does listen to students, and it really is possible that a small Stanford group project can eventually lead into significant changes and improvements of the highest levels of policy making.”

This kind of renewed interest in national security and defense tech among students is precisely what the Gordian Knot Center is hoping to foster. Building an interconnected innovation workforce that can “think deeply, [and] act quickly,” GKC’s motto, is a driving priority for the center and its supporters.


We’re really trying to empower students to pursue national security-relevant work while they’re here at Stanford.
Joe Felter
GKC Director

The Department of Defense recognizes the value of this approach. In her remarks, Dep. Sec. Kathleen Hicks acknowledged that reshaping the culture and methodologies by which the DoD runs is as imperative as it is difficult.

“My life is a Gordian knot, day in and day out at the Defense Department,” she quipped. Speaking seriously, she reminded the audience of the tremendous driving power DoD has had in creating future-looking national security defenses.  “Because of its sophistication, diversity, and capacity to innovate, the U.S. Defense Industrial Base and vibrant innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world,” Hicks emphasized. “Every day, people like you are designing, building, and producing the critical materials and technologies that ensure our armed forces have what they need.”

But she also recognized that the challenges facing the DoD are real and complex. “There are many barriers in front of the Department of Defense in terms of what it takes to operate in government and to make the kinds of shifts we need in order to have the agility to take advantage of opportunities and partner effectively.” She reiterated that one of her key priorities is to accelerate innovation adoption across DoD, including organizational structure, processes, culture, and people.

Partnerships with groups like the Gordian Knot Center are a key component to breaking down the barriers to innovation facing our national institutions and rebuilding them into new, more adaptable bridges forward. While the challenges facing the Department of Defense remain significant, the work of the students in GKC’s classes so far proves that progress is not only possible, but can be made quickly as well.

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A visit from the Department of Defense’s deputy secretary gave the Gordian Knot Center a prime opportunity to showcase how its faculty and students are working to build an innovative workforce that can help solve the nation’s most pressing national security challenges.

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For many, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the murders of George Floyd and too many other people of color was a wake-up call. “It was clear it was another moment in the long, terrible history of racial injustice in the U.S.,” said Paul N. Edwards, director of Stanford’s Science, Technology and Society program in the School of Humanities and Sciences. “Since STS is all about how societies interact with science, technology and medicine, I saw it as an important time to showcase how Black scholars, in particular, see and study issues of race.”

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A new three-quarter sequence of courses provides insights from scholars around the nation on research related to race in the fields of science, technology and medicine, as well as their own lived experiences.

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It’s official: the Moon is open for business. Last week, NASA announced that seven countries had signed its so-called Artemis Accords, a series of bilateral agreements that allow national governments and private companies to extract and exploit space resources, including the Moon’s. Several more nations are “anxious” to sign the pact by year's end.

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It’s official: the Moon is open for business. Last week, NASA announced that seven countries had signed its so-called Artemis Accords, a series of bilateral agreements that allow national governments and private companies to extract and exploit space resources, including the Moon’s. Several more nations are “anxious” to sign the pact by year's end.

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Seminar Recording: https://youtu.be/wKXawdBrCEs

 

About this Event: Are we still in the Nuclear Age? Is this the Age of AI? Are we entering the Age of Synthetic Biology? Technologies such as nuclear power, artificial intelligence, and synthetic biology are “epochal,” as in epoch-making: They redefine the world in which we live, introducing new uncertainties and risks, as well as new responsibilities—but for whom? World-changing technologies are inextricably political entities, affecting distribution of power and resources throughout and between societies. However, despite decades of academic and practical experience with the political dimensions of technology, contemporary societies appear to be inadequately prepared to cope skillfully with the new worlds that their scientists and technologists are creating. Why? What lessons can be learned from existing epochal technologies that might help societies understand, evaluate, and direct their technical potentials and trajectories into the future? Within the context of growing concern about national security threats that may emerge from germline genetic engineering, Greene will consider the cultivation of a “culture of responsibility” in synthetic biology labs. Polleri will examine a set of public controversies surrounding the role of nuclear power and the threat of radioactive contamination in a post-Fukushima Japan. Garvey will map out the risk landscape surrounding AI systems and discuss strategic approaches to coping with uncertainty and disagreement in protecting against catastrophic technological risk.

 

About the Speakers:

Colin Garvey is a Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC and the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. He studies the history and political economy of artificial intelligence (AI), among other things, with a comparative focus on Japan. He is currently a PhD Candidate and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Fellow in the Science and Technology Studies Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His dissertation “Averting AI Catastrophe, Together: On the Democratic Governance of Epochal Technologies,” challenges utopian/dystopian thinking about AI by explaining how more democratic governance of the technology is not only necessary to avert catastrophe, but also to steer AI R&D more safely, fairly, and wisely. He won Best Early Career Paper at the 2017 meeting of the Society for the History of Technology for “Broken Promises & Empty Threats: The Evolution of AI in America, 1956-1996.” His research article on the history and political economy of Japanese AI, “An Alternative to Neoliberal Modernity: The ‘Threat’ of the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer Systems Project,” will be published in a forthcoming special issue of Pacific Historical Review. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition to an MS in STS from RPI, Colin double-majored in Japanese and Media Studies at Vassar College. Before starting graduate school, Colin spent several years teaching in Japan, where he became a Zen Buddhist monk. Colin is fluent in Japanese and freelances as a translator of Japanese books and scientific articles.

 

Daniel Greene is a Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC, where he works with Dr. Megan Palmer on strategies for risk governance in biotechnology. He uses computational social science methods to identify factors that influence the decisions of biology labs to engage in potentially risky research. Daniel completed a PhD at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where he worked with Prof. Carol Dweck to develop and test social-psychological interventions to improve student motivation at scale. His dissertation identified and influenced novel psychological constructs for motivating unemployed and underemployed adults to pursue job-skill training. Outside of academia, Daniel worked for five years as a data scientist and product developer at the Project for Education Research That Scales, a nonprofit that develops resources and infrastructure for disseminating best practices from education research. He also holds a BA in Cognitive Science (Honors) from Rutgers University. Daniel's work has been supported by the Open Philanthropy Project, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Gates Foundation, the Stanford Digital Learning Forum, and an Amir Lopatin Fellowship.

 

Dr. Maxime Polleri is a MacArthur Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation. As an anthropologist of science and technology, his work examines the governance of risk in the aftermath of technological disasters implying environmental contamination. His current research focuses on Japanese public and state responses to the release of radioactive contamination after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. He has published articles and op-ed in Social Studies of Science, American Ethnologist, Anthropology Today, Anthropology Now, Medical Anthropology Quarterly Second Spear, Somatosphere, Bulleting  of the Atomic Scientists, and The Diplomat. 

Virtual Seminar

Colin Garvey, Daniel Greene, & Maxime Polleri
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Abstract: What are the consequences of the emergence of robotics, big data, and artificial intelligence for international politics? Are these new technologies going to promote instability and conflict, as many warn, or are they going to reinforce U.S. military primacy? In particular, will China be able to gain and eventually exploit the unfolding technological revolution - the so-called Second Machine age - or are such concerns exaggerated? The literature in political science and international relations theory has either largely neglected technology and technological innovation, or simply assumed that technology is a substitute for labor that reduces countries' constraints to go to war. Drawing from the scholarship in economics and management, in this article we look at technology in terms of a set complements and nodes-in-the-network. Thus, while technological innovation reduces the prices of some goods or tasks, it simultaneously makes their complementary assets more difficult to procure (through an increase in the demand). The resulting distributional effects, we argue, explain why actors will benefit unevenly from technological change. We test our theoretical insights by looking at seapower in the first and in the emerging second machine age: respectively, the time of the steam engine, steel hulls, quick-firing long-range guns and the telegraph; as well as the unfolding era of neural networks, fast processors and real-time communications. Our preliminary empirical results corroborate our framework, namely that the effects of technological change are much more complex than the literature acknowledges and highlights the challenges countries will have to face in the military realm during the second machine age.

Speaker biosAndrea Gilli is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School of Harvard University and a former Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation of Stanford University. Andrea has conducted research for several organizations, including the European Union Institute for Security Studies, RUSI in London and the Office of Net Assessment of the U.S. Department of Defense. He holds a Ph.D. in social and political science from the European University Institute, an MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a B.A. from the University of Turin.


Mauro Gilli is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies of ETH-Zurich (Switzerland). During the academic year 2015-16, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Dickey Center for International Understanding of Dartmouth College. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University, an MA from SAIS-Johns Hopkins and a B.A. from the University of Turin.

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
Mauro Gilli Center for Security Studies of ETH-Zurich
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Abstract: China’s participation in venture deals financing is at a record level of 10-16% of all venture deals (2015-2017) and has grown quite rapidly in the past seven years.  Technologies where Chinese firms are investing are foundational to future innovation:  artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, augmented/virtual reality, robotics and blockchain technology. Moreover, since these technologies are dual use--designed for commercial use but also equally applicable for military applications, these are some of the same technologies of interest to the U.S. Defense Department.  

Investing is itself only a piece of a larger story of massive technology transfer from the U.S. to China. China has a long-term, systematic effort to attain global leadership in many industries, partly by transferring leading-edge technologies from around the world.

U.S. military superiority since World War II has relied on both U.S. economic scale and technological superiority. If we allow China access to these same technologies concurrently, then not only may we lose our technological superiority but we may even be facilitating China’s technological superiority. 

Speaker bio: Michael Brown is a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow in the U.S. Defense Department. He is the co-author of a Pentagon study on China’s participation in the U.S. venture ecosystem which served as key input for the proposed Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA) being reviewed with bipartisan support by both the House and Senate.

Michael is the former CEO of Symantec Corporation, the global leader in cybersecurity and the world’s 10th largest software company with revenues of $4 billion and more than 10,000 employees worldwide. During his tenure as CEO, Michael led a turnaround as the company developed a new strategy focusing on its security business.

Michael is the former Chairman & CEO of Quantum, a leader in the computer storage industry specializing in backup and archiving products. After leaving Quantum, Michael served as Chairman of EqualLogic, a storage array company. 

He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, received his BA degree in economics from Harvard University in 1980 and his MBA degree from Stanford University in 1984.  

Michael Brown U.S. Department of Defense
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Abstract: In this talk, based on his new book “Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality is, How it Works, and What it Can Do,” Bailenson draws upon two decades spent researching the psychological effects of virtual reality (VR) to help people understand this powerful new tool. ​He describes the profound ways this technology can be put to use—not to distance ourselves from reality, but to enrich our lives and influence us to treat others, the environment, and ourselves better.

Speaker Bio: Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Thomas More Storke Professor in the Department of Communication, Professor (by courtesy) of Education, Professor (by courtesy) Program in Symbolic Systems, a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and a Faculty Leader at Stanford’s Center for Longevity. He earned a B.A. cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1994 and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Northwestern University in 1999. He spent four years at the University of California, Santa Barbara as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and then an Assistant Research Professor.

Bailenson studies the psychology of Virtual Reality (VR), in particular how virtual experiences lead to changes in perceptions of self and others. His lab builds and studies systems that allow people to meet in virtual space, and explores the changes in the nature of social interaction. His most recent research focuses on how VR can transform education, environmental conservation, empathy, and health.

He consults pro bono on VR policy for a wide variety of government agencies, has published numerous papers and opinion pieces, and has produced three VR documentary experiences which were official selections at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016 and 2017. His new book, “Experience on Demand” will be published by Norton in January.

Jeremy Bailenson Professor of Communication Stanford University
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Abstract: As the orbital space around earth becomes increasingly crowded, there is an increasing need to capture and manipulate objects ranging from satellites and antennas to “uncooperative” space debris. Robots have been proposed as a solution for clearing debris and manipulating objects in space. However, many of the traditional techniques used for robotic grasping and manipulation will not work. Gecko-inspired adhesives are promising technology, as they work in vacuum, at high and low temperatures, and do not require special hand-holds or other fixtures. Tests in microgravity and in the International Space station have shown that “gecko grippers” are a viable option for eliminating space debris in low Earth orbit and for enhancing missions in space.

Speaker Bio: Professor Mark Cutkosky applies analyses, simulations, and experiments to the design and control of robotic hands, tactile sensors, and devices for human/computer interaction. In manufacturing, his work focuses on design tools for rapid prototyping.

Mark Cutkosky Professor Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
Seminars
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Abstract: We live in a world where the risks from a changing climate are clear. New research highlights the magnitude of the risks and the benefits of rapid, ambitious action. We also live in a world where the technologies for addressing climate change, for limiting the amount of climate change that occurs and for dealing as effectively as possible with the changes that cannot be avoided, are increasingly mature, affordable, and rich with co-benefits. In many ways and in many places, progress in deploying solutions is dramatic. But worldwide, progress is much slower than it needs to be, if we are to avoid the worst impacts. We need to find a global accelerator pedal for climate solutions. Key enablers include steps to level the economic playing field, government investments to drive down the costs and risks of technology solutions, and novel mechanisms to spur international collaboration.

Speaker Bio: Chris Field is the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies. His research focuses on climate change, ranging from work on improving climate models, to prospects for renewable energy systems, to community organizations that can minimize the risk of a tragedy of the commons. Field was the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, a position he held from 2002 to 2016. He was co-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 2008-2015, where he led the effort on the IPCC Special Report on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation”  (2012) and the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2014) on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. His widely cited work has earned many recognitions, including election to the US National Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck Research Award, and the Roger Revelle Medal.

William J. Perry Conference Room

Encina Hall, 2nd floor

616 Serra Street

Stanford, CA 94305

Chris Field Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University
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Abstract: As a potential measure of mitigating the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS) entails capturing CO2 from from large industrial sources, compressing it to a dense supercritical form (scCO2), injecting it deep into suitable reservoirs, and storing it permanently. After 20+ years of research on CCS, including various applied studies involving pilot and demonstration projects, many stakeholders believe that the world is now ready to move from demonstration to industrial-scale implementation. Yet many hurdles remain, ranging from mostly technical nature to economic and public perception issues. This talk provides a broad overview of the decades of research on CO2 and discusses what has been learned versus what challenges remain. The presentation also elaborates on California as an interesting example for the complicated road to deployment at scale, as ambitious climate goals and generous carbon credits should provide for project economics to work, yet no California CCS project has materialized to date.

Speaker Bio: Jens Birkholzer is an internationally recognized expert in subsurface energy applications and environmental impact assessment. He is a Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL, Berkeley Lab) in Berkeley, California, and currently serves as the Director for the Energy Geosciences Division (EGD) at LBNL. He received his Ph.D. in water resources, hydrology, and soil science from Aachen University of Technology in Germany in 1994. Jens joined LBNL in 1994, left for a management position in his native Germany in 1999, and eventually returned to LBNL in 2001. He has over 400 scientific publications, about 125 of which are in peer-reviewed journals, in addition to numerous research reports. He serves as the Associate Editor of the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control (IJGGC) and is also on the Board of Editorial Policy Advisors for the Journal of Geomechanics for Energy and Environment (GETE). Jens leads the international DECOVALEX Project as its Chairman, is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, and serves as a Senior Fellow of the California Council on Science and Technology.

William J. Perry Conference Room

Encina Hall, 2nd floor

616 Serra Street

Stanford, CA 94305

Jens Birkholzer Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Seminars
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