In This Issue
Summer Bridge on Critical Materials
June 15, 2024 Volume 54 Issue 2
The summer issue of The Bridge discusses leveraging new and emerging technologies, infrastructure, innovative approaches, and a resilient supply chain to ensure a stable and reliable supply of critical materials far into the future.

Editor in Chief's Note

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Author: Ronald M. Latanision

During the 1984–85 academic year while I was a professor at MIT, I arranged a year-long sabbatical as an advisor to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology. The chair of the committee was Don Fuqua, and the committee included Al Gore, Dan Glickman, and Ron Paul, among other members. During that year we arranged a hearing chaired by Dan Glickman on the materials stockpile. Admiral Bobby Inman testified before the committee along with other witnesses. At the time, there was no internet, and the concern was supply interruptions of materials critical to our economy and national defense. The hearing focused then on many of the relics of wars of the past that linger in the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

But we are on a different trajectory in today’s world. Weapons of mass destruction still represent a threat to humanity, but cyberwar and the capacity to wage it now represent today’s greatest threat to not only our ­quality of life but to our most basic human needs. Almost by default, we have become totally dependent upon ­elec­tronics for virtually every aspect of our lives, from shelter to air and water quality to food production and distribution, and more. From the cars we drive to the sensors that we install in buildings to detect pollutants and microbes to the medical devices that have become commonplace, technology has progressed to such an extent that it now depends on electronics that were largely unimaginable decades ago but whose viability and dependability are crucial. I often wonder if we have not overextended our dependence on technology of this kind, which leads to an unintended vulnerability.

In any case, critical minerals and materials and the engineering systems constructed from them are key to our personal and national security on virtually every ­level today. Since the 1939 Strategic and Critical ­Materials Stock ­Piling Act, Congress has authorized the US government to stockpile “strategic and critical materials” and to develop domestic sources of their supply (as ­amended through Public Law 117-263, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023). ­Concerns associated with the kinds of ­materials described in this issue of The Bridge are prominent today, including supply chain concerns that are ubiquitous. I thank Jennie Hwang for assembling a superb issue of The Bridge and for her steady hand in guiding the evolution of this volume.

This issue also includes an interview with computer scientist Timnit Gebru. She is an advocate for diversity in technology and co-founder of Black in AI, a community of Black researchers working in artificial intelligence (AI). She is also the founder and executive director of the ­Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR) and has been recognized widely for her expertise in artificial intelligence, algorithmic bias, and data mining. She was named one of the world’s fifty greatest ­leaders by Fortune in 2021, one of Nature’s ten people who shaped science in 2021, and in 2022, one of Time magazine’s most influential people.

As always, I welcome your comments. Feel free to reach out to me at RLatanision@exponent.com.

About the Author:Ronald M. Latanision (NAE) is a senior fellow at Exponent, the Neil Armstrong Distinguished Visiting Professor at Purdue University, and editor in chief of The Bridge.