Vice President Soliciting Public For Help Shooting The Cancer Moon

This week the Vice President announced the opening of a White House website for people to share their ideas and stories concerning cancer.  As part of the Cancer Moonshot effort, this public outreach would help put faces to various forms of cancer and try and connect public ideas with researchers and their work.

The White House site joins two other main sites connected to the effort.  If people have cancer research ideas, they can go to Cancer Research Ideas (the White House website will send them there as well).  There is also a Cancer Moonshot page on Medium, a platform that the Administration has used for other projects as well.  This collection of stories and articles functions as a high-level archive for the Moonshot project.  If you’re looking for more research-focused coverage, consult the National Cancer Institute’s page for this project.

Besides research ideas, the Vice President is interested in hearing general suggestions for the Moonshot, as well as the kinds of things people are doing to accelerate developments in cancer research.  No deadlines are stated, but since the Vice President is leaving office in January, there’s not reason to dawdle.

White House Student Film Festival Looks To The Future

The White House is looking for submissions to its third Student Film Festival.  The theme is “The World I Want to Live In,” which is broad enough for interested student filmmakers (students in grades K-12) to tackle any number of themes.  So if you were hoping the Festival would stick with its focus on works making the case for technology in schools, I think you could still fit under this year’s theme.

Films have to be uploaded to YouTube by 11:59 p.m. Eastern on July 15.  The films can be no longer than three minutes, use no unauthorized content, and have been made since the beginning of the contest (March 24, 2015).  There will be two rounds of judging, and Obama administration staff will make the decisions in collaboration with staff of the American Film Institute.  Finalists will have their work shown at the White House and promoted through the White House internet presence.

If you’d like a look at past Film Festival finalists, check the Film Festival website (or the various Film Festival playlists on YouTube).

UN Environment Programme Hosting First Science-Policy Forum

The second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is in Nairobi, Kenya from May 23-27.  The UNEA is the biennial meeting of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and preceding the main assembly UNEP has organized a Science-Policy Forum for May 19-20.  Consistent with the agenda of the UNEA, the focus of the forum will be on the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  Specifically, the presentations will focus on the scientific and other knowledge necessary for informed decision making in support of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

There is a draft agenda available that lists some more specific desired outcomes for the event:

  • Better understanding of the Science-Policy Interface
  • Proposed actions for strengthening the Science-Policy Interface
  • Strengthened partnerships between the science community and UNEP
  • Policy-relevant assessment findings provided by the science community to policymakers
  • Increased focus on the importance of data for reporting against the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Increased networking among scientific organisations
  • Awareness raising of the science behind emerging environmental issues
  • Identification of frontier issues for UNEP 2017 Frontiers Report

Save for a keynote session, the first day will have tracks covering various development-relevant sectors of science.  The second day presentations are focused on identifying challenges and other items for inclusion in the Frontiers Report.  Sir Peter Gluckman, Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), will give a keynote and be part of a panel including several current or former governmental officials involved in science advise and/or the environment and science and environment writer Andy Revkin.


White House Announces Four AI Conferences

On May 3 the White House announced that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will host a series of 4 workshops on factors related to the development of artificial intelligence (AI).  As Deputy Chief Technology Officer Ed Felten describes in the White House blog, the workshops are intended to identify challenges and opportunities in this area of technology.

Each of the four conferences are open to the public, and will be available to watch live over video.  The dates, places, and emphases of each workshop are:

At the moment there aren’t many details for these workshops.  Some of them do list a few confirmed participants, primarily academic researchers.  More details should be forthcoming, including information indicating that researchers and practitioners from universities, industry and governments will be involved.  Hopefully those involved with skeptical AI research like OpenAI will be able (and feel inclined) to participate in this process.

The government is particularly interested in how to utilize AI and machine learning in providing government services.  They have formed a Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (comprised of the OSTP Director, the Vice President, and Cabinet Secretaries and agency heads with science and technology portfolios), which will first meet next week.

Science Fair Roundup: White House, Intel And Google

If you weren’t able to be at the last White House Science Fair, the White House has some video for you.  As is now custom (one I hope will continue), the White House has a video where staff talk with some of the kids exhibiting at the Fair.

There is also video of the President’s remarks.

If it’s not already clear, the White House Science Fair is effectively the tip of a policy iceberg for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.  While it certainly raises the public profile of science, the acceptance and encouragement it provides students in these fields is likely more important.  The numbers in this piece from the Harvard Political Review give some shape to the growth of the fair and the multiple STEM education policies the Obama Administration has implemented.

The White House Science Fair has often recognized top performers in the Intel Science Talent Search (STS), the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the Google Science Fair.  The Intel Science Talent Search announced its finalists in March, and the ISEF will announce its 2016 finalists in May.  The Google Science Fair will close its 2016 competition cycle in May as well.  Finalists will be announced in late summer.

UK Government Creates Position Of National Technology Adviser

Liam Maxwell, until recently the Chief Technology Officer for the U.K. government, has been named to the newly created post of National Technology Adviser.  Maxwell has served as CTO since 2012, and was also the first person to serve in that position.  Prior to his service for the national government, Maxwell performed similar information technology functions for local governments

It’s important to note that the role of the U.K. CTO is not the same as that for the U.S. CTO  (though I think both countries are still figuring out a lot about positions like these).  The U.K. position is focused more on the procurement, management and implementation of information technology in government.  The new position of National Technology Adviser appears to have a strong emphasis on the digital economy.  The announcement of the new position suggests that Maxwell will do more to promote the U.K. as a place to do business involving digital services.  He will be working with the U.K. digital sector as well as continuing to improve the digital provision of government services to U.K. citizens.

I think that this integration of business promotion and service improvement is distinct from any comparable U.S. position.  So while the U.K. National Technology Adviser is probably closer in job description to the U.S. CTO, than the U.K. CTO is, it still defies an easy parallel.

Congratulations to Mr. Maxwell.

We The People Platform Gets A Tuneup

Back in February the White House staff responsible for the We The People online petition platform asked for input on possible technical changes to the service.  Earlier today the White House posted about a series of technical changes that streamline We The People and make the process more usable.  (The threshold for action on We The People remains the same: 30 days to obtain 100,000 signatures.)

The changes are both cosmetic and functional, with the White House blog post providing useful comparison graphics.  The website is now optimized for both phones and desktop/laptop devices, and those using screen readers to access the web should find We the People an easier site to navigate.  There is also more guidance for the petition creation process.  While that may make for fewer petitions, it’s possible that the percentage of petitions that do gain interest will increase.

If you have questions, answers might be found if you review the Q&A session that Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman held earlier today.