Intro to the Information Technology Lab at NIST by Jim St.Pierre

Jim St.Pierre
Deputy Director, Information Technology Laboratory
Automatic Summary

Building a Tech Future with NIST: Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity

The Information Technology Laboratory (ITL), a division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is jointly forging a path that navigates the landscape of ever-evolving technology spurred by the synergy industry, academia, and national institutions foster. The power of diversity, equity, and inclusivity, coupled with a focus on accessibility, has insulated the institution against the effects of rapid technology change.

A Fascinating Place to Work

With a workforce deployed at the intersection of academia and industry, ITL attracts personnel of diverse backgrounds from across the globe. This melting pot of competencies results in the tackling of fascinating, challenging IT problems with tact and diligence while pushing the envelope on diversity and inclusivity.

The mission that keeps ITL ticking centers on promoting US innovation and competitiveness via measurement science. From quantum computers to biomedical technologies, the science of precise measurement plays a considerable role in these intricate fields.

Bridging the Gap: Quantum Computing and Cyber Security

  • Cyber Security: One of the vibrant areas where ITL leaves its mark is Cyber Security. Tasked with enhancing the economic security of US industries, the institution is involved in creating robust cyber security standards for both federal and global use. This includes the development and implementation of risk management frameworks for emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
  • Quantum Computing: Representing the next revolutionary step in computation power, quantum computing brings unmatched capabilities, such as quicker drug discovery processes. However, it also poses security challenges—kicking our cyber security to high gear as conventional data encryption methods may be vulnerable to quantum computing attacks.

The institution's work also extends into facial recognition algorithms and usability studies of everyday tech, including biometric technology at airports. Again, cutting edge work is grounded in nuts-and-bolts concerns and practical applications.

Diversity: A Core Pillar of The Institution

In ITL, diversity is not only promoted within the institution but extends to its research and STEM initiatives across the commerce department. Tools aimed at promoting diversity such as the women in STEM initiative and comprehensive diversity committees ensure an inclusive work environment.

Moreover, the institution shares its commitment to diversity, integrity, inclusivity, perseverance, and transparency with stakeholders, including Congress and the White House. This fosters trust and paves the way for a better tech culture in the nation's IT landscape.

AI Risk Management and Aspects of Quantum Information Science

The rise of artificial intelligence has necessitated the development of risk management frameworks. ITL focuses on evaluating AI systems and their associated risks, balancing technical aspects and their impacts on society.

Besides, ITL pushes the quantum frontier, with a keen interest in quantum information science. The institution aims to optimize technologies for quantum computing and to establish an infrastructure for quantum communication between quantum computers.

As part of Federal Government's initiative, ITL has also been involved in the deployment of Internet of Things technology, removing barriers to enhance its utility and accessibility across the nation.


The ITL at NIST is an exciting place for anyone interested in challenging work at the nexus of science, industry and government policy. With a rich history and a commitment to diversity, top-tier technical excellence, and societal relevance, NIST is steadily building a tech future on the cornerstone of precision, trust, and inclusivity.

Video Transcription

Here, the acting Director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. And I'm really happy to be here with you today.Um I wanna tell you about uh a little about my laboratory, the Information Technology Lab and about some of the efforts we make uh related to uh diversity, equity inclusivity and um uh and accessibility. Um This is a very exciting place to work. I came here from industry and uh on a, on a whim actually or a challenge from our management that uh I worked at another company of the large computer company and our management felt that they were so confident was such a great place to work. They, they said you should go out and interview with other uh areas and this was interviewing for someone with my background. Um And I ended up coming to N and really finding it a fascinating place to work. It's at the intersection of academia I think and, and industry. Um We're, we're kind of looked at as industries of national lab. Uh So we get presented with all kinds of fascinating, challenging problems to work with. Uh We have a strong emphasis on uh diversity and inclusivity and uh our staff uh I think reflects that and we, we're aiming always to do uh do better in that area. Then this mission is really exciting.

It's uh well, it depends who you are and how you look at it. But we find it very exciting and that's promoting us innovation, right? And that's exciting because that's at the cutting edge of science, technology engineering um and competitiveness for us, industry around the globe.

And we do that but we support the US industry innovation and competitiveness through measurement science. How, how to precisely measure things from, you know, quantum computers to uh telecommunications standards to physics standards, um uh physical measurements, uh material measurements, uh biomedical.

Um I'll talk about the cyber security work, which, which we do in my laboratory, which is very exciting. And our goal is to enhance economic security for the country. Since we're part of the uh administration, we're part of the US Department of Commerce and to improve our quality of life. So that's a pretty exciting and uh daunting in some ways in the uh challenge. But we are, we are excited because we uh we believe we are changing the world, you know, one standard at a time. And uh it's very energizing to be surrounded by people that, that are interested in doing that work. We trace our roots back to the uh the constitution. There's a, there's a that there's a federal role established in the US constitution that says the government shall set the weights and measures. Um But we do that across. Um So that's in the constitution and then that, that is spread out across all the labs. Uh My laboratory, as I mentioned is in the information technology laboratory uh which you can see in the center here. Um Oops, I'm sorry, I gotta get back to my my view here. Sorry, bring that back up. OK, so my laboratory is in the middle there and um sorry, I had a little trouble with my slides there.

I am the information technology laboratory, there's an engineering laboratory, the physical measurement laboratory, material measurement labor. And that's one of the wonderful things about working at nest is that you get to work with people from all of these labs. We work with people in, in each of these labs in collaboration. Partly because what we do in information technology touches all of them. We have a lot, a big effort in artificial intelligence. We are in a lot of ways leading the federal government in artificial intelligence.

We recently published an uh artificial intelligence risk management framework to try to help uh everyone wrestle with how we're deploying artificial intelligence in in any kind of system government industry. How do we think about the risk associated with it and not just from a technical um aspect but what we call a socio technical. How does it affect our, our society and the uh the individuals in the society. So we take and, and that includes, you know, ideas about diversity inclusivity. Uh We, we not only think about that in the, in the context of our staff that work at, at N we also think about it in our research and some of our A I related research, for example, we're doing facial recognition testing of facial recognition algorithms, they're used widely. Um However, there are concerns about them. Congress has concerns a lot of people. Uh individuals have concerns. There was a lot of concern. There's been a lot of concerns about bias and facial recognition. So we did a a widely read widely um uh distributed uh uh as all our studies are published widely and open on, on bias and facial recognition.

We found there is um depending on the algorithm, there can be significant bias in the algorithm depending on the uh the the race of the individual who is being that is the, the, the, the, the photographs that are used or the images that are used. And some algorithms have very little, extremely small amounts of bias and others have a lot. So what are one of the key findings of our research is you have to know your algorithm and it's important to have it to know how it tests and how it compares to other algorithms. Um So I again, I'm just wanna give an overview of nest and I'll be interested to look and see if there's any comments I can or questions I can respond to about what it's like working at nest. Uh I did wanna just mention that our, our technical excellence is one of our key, you know, um core values uh is to make sure we're striving for technical excellence integrity um that we take the long view on research. Um and, and, and that we're inclusive in livity is one of our core values.

And then we mean that in every sense of the way uh as every sense of the word uh diversity, uh inclusivity of different technical perspectives, uh different international perspectives, we work with researchers around the globe. And that's also makes it a very exciting and enriching place to work.

The three individuals you see here are uh three this Nobel Prize winners. Um And again, it's wonderful to work in this strives to be a meritocracy, you know, and I think to be honest, we, we, we strive for that. We're not there yet. We've actually done some studies um intensive looks at our own internal workings and where we are on that uh journey to be a true, true uh meritocracy. And we found some challenges with how we deal with diversity. And so we're addressing those uh strongly um I just, this morning was looking at an update on a new tool we have for our managers that helps them look at the, the range of salaries for all of our staff. And in particularly this one, we're just rolling out internally for our use is to help them make sure that salaries across gender, uh uh across, you know, uh for at least the day we have for the data we have on male and female, it can tell us how the uh the salaries are broken out and how well, um uh make sure they're distributed properly.

And that if you're hiring someone or promoting someone that you're keeping salaries within a proper uh a reasonable range and, and to understand where, where you are in that, in that journey, we thought a lot about our purpose in Ititl and because it touches everyone's lives so much nowadays as a, as a laboratory within the federal government, uh we did a lot of talking with our senior leaders and our staff and we came to this purpose of what, why do we do what we do?

And that is cultivating trust and information technology and metrology. And that's from all ranges of information technology metrology. I mentioned cyber security. We publish all that we put out, develop with industry, very open process of cyber security standards for the world, basically.

But for the federal government in particular, but people around the world uh use our use our standards voluntarily because of the process we use, we have uh a Cyber security framework we put out and we're now updating because cyber security isn't static, it continues to move and we have our, our researchers working on the cutting edge.

Um And those that, that research has to has to maintain and has to keep going. And so, uh um you know, whether it's cyber security or the two projects you see here on the right, um is Paulina Quo who's working on our some of our quantum uh networking and quantum computing. Uh And of course, quantum computing is the next generation of computing that's gonna be much more powerful computers than we have today. That's wonderful. It's gonna let us do wonderful things from developing and uh and finding and identifying new medications. Um But it also has challenges, for example, for cyber security, it will, once we have a functioning cyber uh quantum computer, it will be able to break some of the encryption we use today to keep information secret, right, information that you don't want others to have. Um And that's a problem. So we're already been working for years, several years since about 2015, 2016 on the post quantum crypto algorithms that will protect that data. Once we even have quantum computers, they won't be able to break those algorithms, but they'll also those alg algorithms will run on standard classical computers that we have today. So Pauline is help helping us there.

On the left, you see a part of our team uh doing more focus on usability and the the object you can't see in that glass case was something they developed a detailed usability study. We do usability of information technology because I think we all would appreciate that, that our computer technology isn't as usable sometimes as we like it to be, it's getting more user friendly. But um we are, we are always looking to advance it. And so this is a kind of a simple one, but they did a usability study of the tilt and the fingerprint readers, the usability of fingerprint readers used at uh airports. Uh and they helped DH S figure out the ultimate um the the ideal angles, regardless of, of an individual, whether for example, seated in a wheelchair or standing across different heights. And it seems trivial, but it actually took a research project to, to determine that. And I come up with a uh and that's deployed across the uh the US and every airport. Now just one small project that that's done here. But again, just to give you a sense of, of the, of the range of things. So, um I'm proud that itl my laboratory has the oldest uh diversity committee at NIF. So now I think virtually every lab has a diversity committee or a similar type organization. And in ours, it, it's staff representatives from all of our divisions that make up our laboratory.

Um they developed their own strategic plan, they advise management, right. So this is an opportunity for them to get together to talk about uh concerns or issues and share them with us and for us to work together to address them. Um I put in place a, a, an approach where we review our policies with them so that they, we make sure that we get that perspective on any new policies, whether it's, you know, whether it's telework or, or any new uh policies we have that affect our, our staff and we get the input from our, our diversity committee.

And of course, and then they organize events to, you know, especially these days, it's challenging in our hybrid work environment um to have people get to know each other, right? Uh We're all in back to back online meetings as I'm sure many of you are well familiar with. Um So uh there's also um a Department of Commerce effort led by uh Robin Bunch here at uh Women in Stem. Um and that we were uh kind of leaders in that. And uh and Robin led an effort to uh establish that down at the Department of Commerce. So the Secretary of Commerce who reports to the president, um and down at commerce, they established this uh women in stems uh effort and that across all the bureaus that make up um Commerce Department, including patent office, Noah, the Weather service, um NIST and all the other uh components of the Department of Commerce.

Um There we go. So again, as I said, you know, for us building trust and, and a better culture uh is about the things you see here that I talked about, you know, excellence, integrity, inclusivity, perseverance, transparency and reliability. And that's why we continue to uh do everything we can to ensure we are. When we look for new hiring new candidates, we look for the, the uh our push our management very hard to ensure that their candidate pool is very broad and uh uh as inclusive as, as we can possibly make it. Um We, the other exciting thing about working at N I found working in industry was very exciting, but working at NIST is, is even uh more exciting because of the partners and the stakeholders we get to work with. We work with people across the, from the White House, the executive office of the President with, with Congress. I had the honor of uh testifying recently before Congress about some of our work and an identity management standards um with all the other federal agencies, with virtually all the standards development organizations around the world.

Uh academia, universities and of course, industry virtually, I'd say every researcher in this does some work that is hand in hand with industry, addressing real problems that are solving real problems that they're facing uh that we help them address either through fundamental research and advancing new maybe whether it's encryption algorithms or telecommunication communication protocols for five G uh uh wireless.

Um So it's like I say, an extremely exciting and dynamic environment. Um Artificial Intelligence, an extremely exciting area. Our A I risk management framework is, is really important. And uh uh this year, we're, we're trying to move that out more and we're also uh be looking at it, how do we help uh with industry with evaluating and understanding um things like the large uh language models and things uh underpinning things like chat GP T uh and so forth and helping can we help with test and evaluation of those sort of those uh these tools?

Um And then uh helping people take our risk management framework and operationalize it. In other words, put it into effect and use it in their, in their operations quantum information science, as I mentioned briefly, that's, you know, harnessing the the fundamental quantum phenomena.

Um Some of them are things that uh you know, Einstein referred to as Spooky action at a distance. Um uh because of the, the strange way things be behave at that level. And so we're working across a number of ways, partly for us, we look at the information technology, how do you compute and do and run algorithms on a um on a quantum computer. Uh How do you characterize it, verify, validate it? And then how do you have quantum networks that can communicate between quantum computers? So we're working in all these areas, uh cyber security, incredibly important, right? Everything you do online, you want to not only be secure but private. And there's uh people sometimes can conflate those two or they think that they're the same, but really privacy is unique, right? Because privacy is, is not only securing and encrypting your data, but uh what about your policies for who is allowed to use your data and how they're allowed to use your data? That's another aspect of it. So, uh those are both both important. Um This is just touching on um you know, some of the uh the important areas that we, we strive to have trust and it's important that all of our stakeholders trust us, Congress and the White House.

Uh They've exhibited great trust in us that, that I that is exhibited through the president giving executive orders of technical efforts that he wants this to undertake. Um And we have had a number of those in my laboratory. We're working on some right now. Um And so that goes continues. Uh We are involved in the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee. Uh We support that effort that is advising the president and others. Um The Internet of Things advisory committee which is advising the federal government on the deployment and use and how to remove barriers to uh the successful use of Internet of things, technology. And then the National A I Research resource task force is looking at ways to democratize access to infrastructure, to allow people to do um research on A I. Um I'll just this is quick. Uh just uh just some of the things we are always looking to build the future uh both with our staff and our technology. So we actually fund research there uh as well as um uh um keep policy and inter agency work, physical and psychological safety of our staff. We, we really uh find that to be critically important.

We share all of our research each year on a on a Science Day effort and we participate in many uh outreach efforts to seek the most uh wide range of possible candidates uh through things like the Tap and the Grace Hopper conference and many others. And that's just some of our um uh research uh efforts from uh our, that shows how long we've been doing some of the things we're doing. 75 years in math and stats 50 in cyber security. Let me see if there's any questions here. Um I don't see any questions, right? Oh There is one question, what are you learning from participating at this conference so far? Um I think conferences like this are just critical for um connecting people around the world and in particular, especially as this conference is focused on uh you know, women in technology and, and helping them uh make making aware of all the different opportunities that are out there.

Um And connecting people. I, I've found in my career, you know, just having a relationship and knowing people, helps you to do work, it helps get things done because it's much different to call someone who is um uh who, you know, and already have a relationship with uh to do something, work together and that's what these sort of events help the networking and the connections that, that come out of that.

So, thank you. Good question. Any other questions? Um I'm actually sitting here in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is where we're located, but this is also has offices in Boulder Colorado and um um South Carolina uh near Charleston. Um So we're, we're kind of uh and we have other people deployed in other parts of the country in smaller uh action efforts. But it's a, it's a tremendous and exciting place to, to uh work and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to, to speak to you today. Um And I'm happy to answer any other questions you might have on anything I touched on. Does it require, uh let's see, do, do, do, does working at this? I used to live across the street. Oh, that's, that's neat. Small world does working in this require any level of security. Uh It does not require a level of security clearance. And, but however, because as part of the federal government, uh it does uh require us citizenship. Um but no, you're not required to have a security clearance. We don't do uh classified work in my laboratory. We do because we do encryption and cyber security. We often um uh collaborate and we're required to collaborate with some of the intelligence community experts. They have a, they have cryptography experts and other experts that we required, you know, just to share because we wanna share that expertise when developing standards and we do that openly.

Um And so, but you're not required to have a clearance, some of us do have clearances. Um so that, you know, we can uh have access to information to understand where some of the threats are going so that can inform our research. But the vast majority of our research have researchers have no clearance. You're welcome. All right, I think we are just about out of time, but I wanna thank you all for coming. I wish I could see you. Um So he's a little unusual giving these talks to a screen. Thank you. I think we're out of time if I understand. Thank you very much. Thanks for coming. Thank you, Barbara Helena Janet, Jacqueline and Janet. Thank you very much. All right, take care. Bye bye.