Technologists from around the world gathered at the Emerging Technologies Workshop 2020 from 27 to 29 January in Vienna, to explore with the IAEA new and developing technologies that have the potential to affect the Agency's verification mission. Opportunities to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning advances into nuclear material surveillance and associated analysis, and visualization enhancements to aid the interpretation and communication of nuclear verification information were among the topics discussed.
Each year, the IAEA verifies the peaceful use of nuclear material in over 180 States – an activity known as nuclear safeguards. The Emerging Technology Workshop is part of the Department of Safeguards' strategic planning activities and helps IAEA safeguards staff stay abreast of the constantly evolving technological environment.
“Coping with technological developments and trends is expected of us, and exploiting new technological opportunities is required,” said Massimo Aparo, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards, IAEA. “By bringing together a diverse range of external experts – with people who are engaged with similar challenges – and by focusing on specific tasks, we want to reveal untapped ideas and uncover new ways of understanding how to strengthen our approaches and technologies.”
For IAEA safeguards staff, the Workshop provides the opportunity to learn, identify opportunities to leverage new technologies, and deepen existing knowledge in the use of current technologies. The workshop also allows staff to build contacts with leading experts in fields not traditionally linked to safeguards, thereby laying the ground for potential future partnerships.
“If an organization is not open to innovation, the dangers are very clear – whatever you are doing will become obsolete,” said Marco Steinberg, Founder and CEO of Snowcone & Haystack, a strategic design practice helping governments and leaders to innovate. “Today we’re talking about how to organize the capacity, ideas, and resources in new ways. As the world around us changes at a fast pace, the IAEA needs to be ahead of these changes to get the answers to the important questions right.”
The previous Emerging Technologies Workshop in 2017 aimed to enhance awareness about trends in emerging technologies, resulting in closer monitoring and evaluation of particular technologies of potential interest. This year’s workshop explored these technologies more deeply, and looked at how these may enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the IAEA’s nuclear verification work.
“The discussions and demonstrations at the Workshop provided insight into other industries with analogous challenges, so we can learn from their experiences and perspectives,” said Chad Haddal, Safeguards Outreach Coordination Officer, Department of Safeguards, IAEA. “This will inform our research and development plan, enhance decision making in crafting solutions to safeguards challenges, and improve our preparedness for the future.”