The August 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Image of commemorative Sentinel project coin from Mountain Skies catalog

The FBI Sentinel System, the replacement for the infamous Virtual Case File (VCF) fiasco that Spectrum's senior editor Harry Goldstein wrote about in exquisite detail in his report, "Who Killed the Virtual Case File," has slipped its schedule another three months but has managed to stay within its $456 million budget, according to an audit of the Justice Department's Inspector General (IG). The partially redacted IG report can be found here.

Sentinel, according to the FBI, "... strengthen[s] the FBI’s capabilities by replacing its primarily paper-based reporting system with an electronic system designed for information sharing."

The IG audit report states that the project is currently in Phase 2 of its 4 phases, with an expected completion schedule of September 2010; the original schedule was December 2009. The project slipped three more months since the last audit in December 2008. However, the overall cost has not changed, nor the final expected functionality.

That said, the functionality expected out of Phase 2 was less than expected. As stated in the audit report, "The FBI and Lockheed Martin encountered significant challenges deploying new electronic versions of forms used by FBI agents during investigations that functioned as intended and met user requirements."

In addition, users found Sentinel to be slow, which the audit report attributed to the FBI's aging internal network infrastructure, which is receiving a $39 million upgrade that is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The IG also noted that there were still some risks that had to be dealt with, especially given Sentinel's "aggressive schedule, scope, and importance of Sentinel’s implementation."

The audit report stated that, "... due to the aggressive schedule, scope, and importance of Sentinel’s implementation, the project requires a highly skilled and integrated project management staff. We have concerns with the staffing of the project because of a recent increase in turnover among project staff members, vacancies within the Sentinel PMO, and because the Sentinel PMO Staffing Plan does not reflect the current staffing levels or skills needed for the project."

As Harry Goldstein's article noted - and the IG does again - turnover helped kill VCF and is something that needs to be addressed as a priority. The IG says that, "The Sentinel PMO [Project Management Office] lost staff in key positions, including Deputy Program Manager, Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative, Program Support Unit Chief, and Quality Manager. While the Program Support Unit Chief and the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative positions were filled by existing Sentinel PMO staff, the replacement staff’s previous positions were left vacant."

Finally, and partly as a result of these risks, the IG says that "the FBI has limited funding for Phase 3 until Phase 2 is completed in order to ensure program continuity and retention of contractor personnel."

Read into that as you will - I see a not too subtle threat to Lockheed Martin, the contractor responsible for implementing Sentinel, not to lower the internal corporate priority of this project.

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Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work

If technologists can’t perfect it, quantum computers will never be big

13 min read
Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work
Chad Hagen

Dates chiseled into an ancient tombstone have more in common with the data in your phone or laptop than you may realize. They both involve conventional, classical information, carried by hardware that is relatively immune to errors. The situation inside a quantum computer is far different: The information itself has its own idiosyncratic properties, and compared with standard digital microelectronics, state-of-the-art quantum-computer hardware is more than a billion trillion times as likely to suffer a fault. This tremendous susceptibility to errors is the single biggest problem holding back quantum computing from realizing its great promise.

Fortunately, an approach known as quantum error correction (QEC) can remedy this problem, at least in principle. A mature body of theory built up over the past quarter century now provides a solid theoretical foundation, and experimentalists have demonstrated dozens of proof-of-principle examples of QEC. But these experiments still have not reached the level of quality and sophistication needed to reduce the overall error rate in a system.

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