August 8, 2007

Investigating surety methodologies for cognitive systems

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —Cognitive systems are a new and emerging technology under exploration by a broad spectrum of researchers around the globe. As in the case with any emerging technology, potential risks of cognitive research could exist but are unrecognized today. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories decided to explore remedies before potential problems became reality.

The team participated in a series of workshops and conducted several focus groups to help understand what threats both scientists and the public perceived to be involved in cognitive research. Focus group participants included non-technical people, such as University of New Mexico professors who had no scientific and technical expertise in this field and a well-educated public from the Albuquerque community; technical people including UNM, The MIND Institute, and Sandia personnel who were researchers in the field of cognitive sciences; and Sandia employees working in the area of surety.

“All participants agreed there was some threat with the cognitive technologies, in particular in the areas of privacy, legal, ownership, and reliability of systems,” Shaneyfelt says. “This was across the board — something unusual in this type of survey. The concerns of the scientists were not that dissimilar from the concerns of the public.”

Based on the findings from the focus groups, the team started looking at Sandia’s surety model as a possible way of mitigating risks.

“The model has been dispersed around the world to prevent the mishandling of nuclear weapons,” Shaneyfelt says. “We wanted to do to the same thing with cognitive technologies to avoid potential future abuses and accidents.”

Sandia’s surety model — which centers around safety, reliability, security, human factors, quality, and surveillance — has been extensively studied and applied within the Labs’ weapon/weapon-related areas as well as for other technologies.

“Our exterior advisory board believed Sandia has a unique ability to utilize surety techniques to help mitigate risks in this field,” says Russ Skocypec, senior manager of the Human, Systems, and Simulation Technologies Department. “They strongly encouraged us to apply them.”

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Chris Burroughs,, (505) 844-0948