2022 Year in Review
Increasing American Competitiveness in Semiconductor Chips
The decline of U.S. semiconductor production and our reliance on nondomestic chips has sparked concerns about supply chain constraints and the potential insertion of vulnerabilities in chips during fabrication. Since before the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act of 2022, the SEI has been helping the Department of Defense (DoD) boost U.S. competitiveness, innovation, and national security in semiconductor and microelectronics manufacturing.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invested $1.5 billion in the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) to revive microelectronics production in the United States, decrease hardware design and manufacturing costs, and optimize hardware. In 2022, the SEI partnered with DARPA to support testing and evaluation in two ERI projects, Data Protection in Virtual Environments (DPRIVE) and Domain-Specific Systems on Chip (DSSoC).
Security and efficiency are at the heart of the work. DPRIVE’s focus is on developing hardware accelerators that utilize novel hardware, software, and architectures to reduce the processing overhead required for fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) calculations, which enable computation on encrypted data. DPRIVE aims to make FHE a practical solution to ensure data security across the DoD. DSSoC is working to develop heterogeneous systems-on-chips (SoCs) to improve the performance of applications within various specific domains. The goal of these programs is to enable better hardware-software co-design through tool integrations that balance efficiency and flexibility. Multiple performers, or third-party organizations, are developing technology to advance both programs.
Evaluating these technologies is the SEI’s role. The SEI has developed an evaluation methodology to make fair comparisons of newly designed technologies of varying maturity from multiple performers. To gauge system readiness, SEI researchers employ usability metrics to evaluate system maturity, code quality, and scalable software design. This flexible testing and evaluation methodology focuses on identifying risks and providing feedback to performers and DARPA to maximize long-term success while they focus on pushing innovation on tight deadlines.
SEI researchers work directly with performers—each of which had upwards of $10 million invested in them—to test and improve developed technology, with program managers to submit evaluations and recommendations, and with other DoD groups, such as the U.S. Army, to transition the technology into use. The SEI’s technical work provided DARPA with data to help inform their decision on which performers to move forward from phase one to phase two of the DPRIVE program.
Researchers working on ERI programs require uniquely broad and deep skills and expertise. “You really have to have a deep knowledge of the full technology stack, what I like to call algorithms to assembler,” explained John Wohlbier, a senior research scientist and Advanced Computing Lab lead in the SEI’s AI Division. The expertise of SEI researchers spans algorithms, high-level programming languages, compiler technologies, low-level language concepts, and hardware.
This deep knowledge, combined with the SEI’s status as a federally funded research and development center, has given the SEI a unique value proposition. “We serve as expert first users and provide an unbiased evaluation of the technology,” Wohlbier said.
This research was developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The views, opinions, and/or findings expressed are those of the author(s) and should not be interpreted as representing the official views or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
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