Department of Energy’s approach to managing Emerging Technologies

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By Carina

Helena Fu has recently undertaken a pivotal role at the Department of Energy (DOE), leading the newly established Office of Critical and Emerging Technology. 

This office is set to play a crucial role in shaping the future of innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and semiconductors.

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DOE establishes office for integrating Emerging Technologies

While the new office will not engage in research directly, its role in “setting a vision and coordinating across the department” is vital. Fu emphasizes the diverse involvement of DOE in technology beyond its traditional energy focus. 

Credit: DepositPhotos
Credit: DepositPhotos

“DOE has so much equity, so much that we’re doing, in critical and emerging technology that I think does not often rise above the fact that we have the word ‘energy’ in our agency name,” Fu stated in an interview with The Hill. 

The office aims to integrate various programs and labs within DOE, ensuring alignment and effective utilization of resources.

DOE’s chief AI officer Fu, on balancing AI’s opportunities and challenges

Additionally, Fu serves as the DOE’s chief AI officer, a position of increasing significance as AI draws attention and concern. 

When asked about her perspective on AI, Fu acknowledged its dual nature: “AI obviously presents [a] tremendous challenge … it also presents tremendous opportunity,” she said. 

Her view reflects a balanced approach to managing AI’s potential and risks.

DOE tackles AI impact and aids in shaping regulations

AI’s potential as a tool for scientific calculations and practical applications is well recognized. 

However, concerns about its implications on national security and job automation have spurred debates on government regulation. 

Fu clarifies that the new office is not regulatory but could contribute scientific insights to inform regulations by other agencies. Collaborating with various departments, the DOE is involved in developing potential regulatory frameworks.

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Diverse applications of AI in energy and security

The DOE’s investment in AI is substantial, with an annual budget of a billion dollars for AI-enabling technologies. 

Fu highlighted the broader applications of AI, from developing sophisticated models for science and security to improving the nation’s electric grid. 

She remarked, “There’s a huge question around how do we help enable adoption of clean energy technologies, and that requires creating smart power grids that optimize energy distribution and management.”

AI’s role in modernizing infrastructure and defense

Credit: DepositPhotos

AI’s utility extends to infrastructure and defense, where it can aid in permitting processes and detecting weapons proliferation. Fu’s nuanced response to its use in weapon precision underscores the department’s focus on accelerating various timelines.

Beyond energy: Exploring biotechnology and other fields

Fu also sheds light on DOE’s research in biotechnology, which holds promise for health, climate change, food security, and agriculture. 

She elaborated on the potential of bio-based mechanisms in revolutionizing the economy and people’s lives.

With a diverse background in energy, national security, and technology, Fu brings a unique perspective to her role. 

Her experience includes positions at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. 

Helena Fu guides DOE’s strategic focus on emerging technologies

Fu’s expertise in systems thinking is crucial in uniting different components of the DOE towards a cohesive goal. 

“It really is to me about how we are able to leverage this collective capacity that we have … [to] maximize the benefit of what we’re doing for the wider community,” she said.

Helena Fu’s leadership at the DOE’s Office of Critical and Emerging Technology marks a significant step in addressing the complexities and potentials of emerging technologies, balancing innovation with security and regulation, and steering the department towards a future that transcends its traditional energy focus.

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