Key Technological Accomplishments by the Current Administration Over the Past 2 Years

January 17, 2019 Updated: January 17, 2019


With the hyper-partisan zeal and rigor many networks and news cycles have displayed during the past two years, and within the highly partisan coverage of the current administration, it has been easy to overlook specific positive accomplishments made and, in particular, the technological advancements achieved during that time.

Quantum Computing

In December 2018, the National Quantum Initiative Act passed unanimously in the Senate, and similarly passed easily in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support (348–11). On Dec. 21, it was signed into law by President Donald Trump. The bill directs and coordinates funding for the next generation of computing enabled by quantum theory.

Quantum computers store more information than traditional computers and can perform computations more securely and in a faster manner than traditional digital circuits. The National Quantum Initiative Act will organize U.S. investments and allocate $1.2 billion of funding over the next five years for investments in quantum technology.

Part of this organization will create a National Quantum Coordination Office as part of the Office of White House Science and Technology Policy, and will establish a subcommittee as part of the National Science and Technology Council focused on studying how quantum computing can benefit the nation.

Further, the bill requests the U.S. National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to increasingly invest in quantum computing technology.

Finally, the bill directs the U.S. Department of Energy to establish two to five centers of excellence dedicated to quantum computing. Industry heralded the bill as a success, with stated support from IBM, Amazon, and Intel.

Stopping Human Trafficking

To assist in the global humanitarian cause of stopping human trafficking, the administration is making technology and policy a key priority in helping those caught in modern slavery. As announced in the president’s first month in office via executive order, the administration directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prioritize dismantling criminal and other organizations involved in human trafficking. This has been implemented in a multi-faceted manner and is still ongoing.

In April 2018, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act—Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act was signed into law after the Senate passed the bill 97–2. The bill criminalizes tech properties and online properties that serve as homes for sex trafficking, including sites like Craigslist and Backpage.

This accomplishment is partially enabled by technology investments made by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It is an important technology policy that will combat trafficking in the future by making it more difficult for black-market-type trafficking ads and interactions on the public internet.

The administration has also contributed $45 million to the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, along with $67 million in funding from the DOJ. Non-governmental organizations and nonprofits such as Thorn, founded by actors Ashton Kutcher and his ex-wife Demi Moore, are potential benefactors of the administration’s policies in this area. In testimony to Congress in February 2017, Kutcher called for more funding for tools to combat human trafficking, and also to foster more public–private partnerships.

Artificial Intelligence

The administration’s focus on artificial intelligence (AI) as a “next wave” of computing should not go unnoticed. In particular, DARPA made an announcement at the DARPA 60th anniversary meeting to commit $2 billion over the next five years toward accelerating AI and infusing its capabilities into technology for the benefit of the nation.

In particular, efforts to make more “explainable” AI, in which machines do more than simply give the confidence of their decision but also explain their decision and rationale like a human would do, are of particular interest to the administration, as are traditional AI uses in automating mundane processes, and also making them faster.

The Trump administration is also interested in creating a Joint Artificial Intelligence Center that would play center stage in coordinating AI research in the Department of Defense. AI’s advancement for government use does not only benefit defense or military and intelligence community applications—much of the DARPA technology has already been transferred into other areas of the government and also to industry, including helping to create Apple’s Siri, the internet, and drones that deliver your daily Amazon packages.

Deep Space Exploration

Finally, a key technology accomplishment of the current administration has to been to prioritize deep space exploration, which includes getting astronauts back to the moon and ultimately onto Mars.

The prioritization of technologies by the National Space Technology Policy Directive 1 and of commercial sector partnerships has helped lay the basis for future Mars missions, including Mars Sample Return (MSR), in which an orbiter, lander, and fetch rover will be used to blast rocks from the surface of Mars and bring them back to Earth for inspection.

The administration has also been widely supportive of Mars technology success at NASA, including the recent InSight Lander. Coordinated technology investments in quantum computing and AI across the government are also poised to assist NASA in deep space exploration data processing, communication, and also in decision making and understanding.

Chris Mattmann is a principal data scientist and associate chief technology and innovation officer in the Office of the Chief Information Officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.