Team of ORNL 'agents' working to keep people safe

June 16, 2004

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 16, 2004 -- Thousands of special agents created at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are on missions 24 hours a day as they work to uncover threats to national security.

These agents, which are actually intelligent software programs, scan the Internet, satellite images, hundreds of newspapers and electronic databases worldwide as they search for anything that even hints at a plot. In addition, the agents reproduce and spin off special-purpose agents that assist in the massive effort to scan more data than is humanly possible to analyze.

"The challenge is to take an incredible amount of information and very quickly determine what represents a true threat to our safety," said Thomas Potok, who leads a team of researchers in the lab's Computational Sciences & Engineering Division. "It's like having a stack of 100,000 pages and having to find the 20 pages that contain information critical to national security."

By using computers to gather data and reduce the information to what is relevant, the intelligence community can concentrate on analyzing just the meaningful information. Thus, people can make quick and accurate decisions based on hard data instead of relying on instincts or gut reactions.

"We're trying to marry what people do best with what computers do best so we can reduce the amount of information that we have to deal with," Potok said. ORNL's intelligent software agent research actually began in the late 1980s and has involved a number of clients, including the military, the intelligence community, Battelle and DOE.

For the military, Potok describes a future battlefield in which intelligent software agents gather information from multiple sources, analyze it instantly and send information to a commander or command center. As a result, instead of a commander being bombarded with information and having to mentally determine priorities, the officer is fed information in order of its importance.

Turning to the homeland, cameras at airports, seaports, sporting events and other major public gathering places can be linked to agents that quickly scan the scene for threats. Researchers create agents that do this, for example, by programming them to look for objects that are out of place or anything that has changed since the last scan.

"With satellite imaging and the many other tools we have at our disposal, it gets rather sophisticated," said Potok, adding that his colleagues are a creative lot who write programs that result in highly effective agents.

"In creating intelligent agents, we think beyond the normal bounds of software engineering," Potok said. "We look at biological and natural models such as a school of piranha or a flock of birds as patterns for our agents. We also look at the breeding and natural selection as a blueprint for finding solutions to complex problems."

The challenges are immense, but so are the rewards.

"Ultimately, our goal is to be able to detect an imminent threat that no one has been able to see with conventional methods," Potok said. "So designing systems that safeguard people and help the military be more effective makes this job rewarding, and it makes coming to work every day exciting."

Remaining challenges include scalability, which involves figuring out how thousands -- or even millions -- of sensors and agents can communicate with each other and people. Another challenge involves developing agents that more closely mimic brain functions.

While ORNL has made great progress in the area of intelligent software agents, Potok expects greater progress as ORNL's computing power continues to increase. In May, DOE selected ORNL as the site where it will build the world's largest supercomputer.
-end-
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy. Funding for the project is provided by the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Related Natural Selection Articles from Brightsurf:

Genetic determinants of fertility and ongoing natural selection in humans
A recent study presented at the ASHG 2020 Virtual Meeting suggests genetic variants may be associated with reproductive success.

Forearm artery reveals humans evolving from changes in natural selection
Humans haven't developed genetic mutations for telepathy or superpowers just yet, but a new study shows our species is still evolving in unique ways and changes in the natural selection could be the major reason.

Novel technology for the selection of single photosynthetic cells
New research, published in the journal Science Advances, demonstrates how microfluidic technologies can be used to identify, isolate and propagate specific single photosynthetically active cells for fundamental industry applications and improved ecosystem understanding.

Genomic selection in dairy cows creates opportunities not possible with traditional selection
The 2019 ADSA Annual Meeting featured the Joint ADSA/Interbull Breeding and Genetics Symposia titled ''Ten Years of Genomic Selection'' and ''Data Pipelines for Implementation of Genomic Evaluation of Novel Traits.'' Because of genomic selection's importance to dairy science, the Journal of Dairy Science invited the speakers to submit articles and share information from these symposia with a wider audience.

Recurrent genomic selection for wheat grain fructans
Development of Climate-Resilient, Nutritionally Improved Wheat

NASA's OSIRIS-REx in the midst of site selection
After a lengthy and challenging process, the team is finally ready to down-select from the four candidate sites to a primary and backup site.

The argument for sexual selection in bacteria
The evolutionary pressure to pass on DNA can produce behavior that otherwise makes no sense in a struggle to survive.

Sexual selection influences the evolution of lamprey pheromones
In 'Intra- and Interspecific Variation in Production of Bile Acids that Act As Sex Pheromones in Lampreys,' published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Tyler J.

Infection biology: Signs of selection in the stomach
Helicobacter pylori, a globally distributed gastric bacterium, is genetically highly adaptable.

Study finds natural selection favors cheaters
Natural selection predicts that mutualisms -- interactions between members of different species that benefit both parties -- should fall apart.

Read More: Natural Selection News and Natural Selection Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.