DARPA Transparent Computing with Speech Recognition

CIA World FactbookSo I’m asked, what have you been doing lately?

HOLLYWOOD, CA (2022/9/22) – A technology newsletter asked to interview me as an article to inspire others interested in technology and innovation. I was asked, what have you been doing in the last few months? Answering that question, I got thrown back into military research I led in 1996. What’s old is new.

What interesting projects have you been working on lately?

A few months ago I mentored a hackathon for Dick’s Sporting Goods. That was fun! Brainstormed ideas for their store of the future. This was not the DSG VentureFuel hackathon, but a separate internal DSG hackathon only for employees. The team I coached was one of the winners. I have a pretty good track record for innovation prizes. Awarded several HeroX prizes. Led the winning team for the Novartis Biome innovation prize in 2019, for AI analysis of disease.

Unrelated project, a stealth startup is implementing Transparent Computing (TC). I was asked to consult. I had been a founder in TC research long ago.

From 1996 to 1999, I was a DARPA principal investigator and a program manager doing research in Transparent Computing. It wasn’t called that yet, the DARPA Transparent Computing program came later.

Industry-standard IT trust assessment systems such as the Motion Picture Association TPN, Department of Defense NIST DFARS or ISO 27001 are mostly on the honor system. Trust assessments are a long questionnaire of security questions to be answered by content providers and service vendors for assessors to certify are following best practices. I completed one of these, a large Excel spreadsheet, when I was a project manager at an aerospace company. It presumes the answers are honest. TPN is a cross-check assessor. You hire an assessment company then TPN certifies their assessment. You get a blue or gold badge from TPN based on level of certification achieved. (TPN membership costs $250 to $120k, depending upon company size.)

Transparent Computing is based upon the opposite premise of trust assessments. TC assumes the system is already under attack or has been compromised by insiders. Like AI bot Tron in the movie of the same name, TC is a trust-doubting protection system that actively monitors what users are doing and may automatically assist or block. Another system, Radiant Mercury, checks the content of email for leakage of secrets. May block or degrade satellite image attachments so that U.S. analysts can share imagery with NATO partners who are at a lower security clearance.

A DARPA project, I managed development of the Integrated Knowledge Environment (IKE), a Department of Defense Transparent Computing desktop application for military analysts. A transparent AI windowing system that runs on top of a conventional OS desktop. IKE can analyze the contents of what is being displayed on the user’s desktop. For example, if an analyst is reading an article about Iraq, IKE might offer to display to the user the CIA Factbook page about Iraq for easy reference.

The TC concept is to scrape the contents of any windows being displayed, then automatically anticipate what the user would want to do next based on that content. IKE is bi-directional, could paste into windows, as well as scrape them. TC can also monitor for security issues, such as leakage of classified information.

Back in 1996, TC was not what seemed most interesting about IKE. We had implemented networked Speech Recognition (SR). Similar to, a precursor to, SIRI and Alexa. DARPA spent tens of millions advancing SR research. Some of it on me!

What motivates you?

I am inherently motivated. Enjoy doing everything. What motivates a small child who is naturally ecstatic? The joy of being alive and experiencing new things. As I start out already going, perhaps the more relevant question may be, what demotivates me? I can be discouraged when I make a mistake or lose a contest I could have won. However, with experience I have found what seemed a setback led to bigger things. So, try not to take it too much to heart.

What is the best part of your day?

Every part. When asked how I am, I always answer, “Fantastic, as always!”

We all went through one of our toughest years during the pandemic. Do you have an inspirational story you would like to share?

Almost everyone went through tough times. During the pandemic, I was hired for a pandemic-related project. I went to work for WHO. My opportunity to join WHO happened because of COVID.

I was hired by the United Nations World Health Organization to build a 3D hospital metaverse to train doctors worldwide remotely. COVID had made in-person travel by WHO doctor-instructors too challenging. While the bureaucracy of the UN was maddening, it takes 17 signatures to buy a paperclip, it was a wonderful learning experience for me and inspirational to work with so many highly educated people on a mission to save lives.

Do you have any passions apart from what you do at work?

My charity work includes being a mentor. Prior to COVID, I spoke at schools in South Central to motivate Latino and African American children to consider a STEM or finance career. These children are smart but live in neighborhoods that face poverty and violence. For the 8th graders, I spoke to them as a research scientist and venture capitalist. Described exciting careers they didn’t know existed. For the 2nd graders, I spoke to them as a mathematician. Demonstrated fun math tricks, like counting to 100 instead of 10 on their fingers. Hint, the thumb counts as 5. That’s 9 on one hand and 90 on the other.

Over the summer I led two mentoring cohorts. One for animators and programmers for the Motion Picture Academy Diversity & Inclusion Summer Learning Program. The other, for LGBT+ startup founders in the StartOut mentoring program.

One of my passions is politics. I’ve been appointed to the City of Beverly Hills Technology Committee since 2016. I have run for Beverly Hills City Council twice. Beverly Hills has one of the most expensive election campaigns in the country. I don’t accept donations and don’t buy political ads, as doing so inevitably leads to bending to the will of rich donors and wealthy media owners. While I haven’t won, running for office has provided me a platform to ask embarrassing questions that should be asked of politicians and to propose progressive solutions that wouldn’t otherwise be considered. I’ve also learned a lot about people by being a politician.

Where are you from?

I grew up on a farm and horse ranch in the Land of Lincoln, in central Illinois. Environmental activists, farmers and journalists, my parents launched the organic farming environmental movement in the 1950s. My family still owns and operates the oldest and largest organic farm in Illinois. While I am a big believer in organic foods, I wanted to be a scientist, not a farmer. I moved to Chicago where I built the autonomous robotic TV studios at NBC, my first big engineering project, and met my future wife Gabrielle. Gabrielle and I have lived in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Carmel and Los Angeles. We moved to Los Angeles after I was recruited to join DreamWorks Animation by the CTO. Gabrielle joined Disney.

This article was updated on 2022/12/8 to add information about TPN, DFARS and ISO 27001.

About Robin Rowe

Robin Rowe

I’m Robin Rowe. People call me Robin or Rob, sometimes professor. I work in advanced product design and innovation management.

As UN WHO Augmented Reality Group Manager and XR Games Producer, I developed a medical metaverse, an AR/VR hospital simulation to train doctors worldwide to save lives.

As chief technologist at multi-billion dollar systems integrator SAIC, I was the founding director of their AI research lab and an enterprise manager with P&L responsibility for commercial and defense divisions. I constructed the Chicago NBC-TV studios, advanced national critical infrastructure by adding Smart Cities capability to the U.S. traffic control system, created real-time AI for DoD national defense crisis management, and developed the real-time motion-capture animation system used to create digital stunt doubles in superhero films such as Disney Marvel Spider-Man.

I led the team that won the Novartis Biome innovation prize in 2019, using AI computer vision to analyze skin disease. I’ve taught C++ as a Computer Science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and the University of Washington. Former DARPA PI for AI and digital video. Former navy research scientist for VR war gaming and vision research. I’ve chaired innovation committees at ANSI/ISO and The CFO Alliance. I’ve developed financial software for Fortune 500 companies and large NGOs. I’m a thesis advisor to graduate and doctoral students in metaverse R&D.

I founded my first start-up, a car company, when I was 16. My family is in real estate and agriculture, owns the largest organic farm in Illinois. Not wishing to run the family business, I went another way. I have 30 years experience in product design and financial systems. And, with trading stocks and now crypto on my own account, I’ve made high ROI year over year.