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October 20, 2015

White House Announces Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On October 20, 2015, the White House announced a grand challenge to develop transformational computing capabilities by combining innovations in multiple scientific disciplines.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) states that, after considering over 100 responses to its June 17, 2015, request for information, it “is excited to announce the following grand challenge that addresses three Administration priorities — the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), and the BRAIN initiative.”  The grand challenge is to “[c]reate a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using what it has learned, and operate with the energy efficiency of the human brain.”  According to OSTP, the new computing capabilities envisioned in this challenge might address issues such as delivering individualized treatments for disease, allowing advanced robots to work safely alongside people, and proactively identifying and blocking cyber intrusions.  To meet this challenge, OSTP states that major breakthroughs are needed in the basic devices that store and process information and the amount of energy they require, as well as in the way a computer analyzes images, sounds, and patterns; interprets and learns from data; and identifies and solves problems.  Many of these breakthroughs, according to OSTP, will require new kinds of nanoscale devices and materials integrated into three-dimensional systems and could take a decade or more to achieve.  OSTP “look[s] forward to working with colleagues from across the nanotechnology, computer science, and neuroscience communities to transform future computing.”  Stakeholders interested in helping to organize or participate in a planning activity should contact