Pending Senate confirmation, the next head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be the current vice president of research at the University of Maryland, Laurie E. Locascio.
President Joe Biden announced his nomination of Locascio to head NIST last week. Prior to her posts in the Maryland academic field, Locascio — who, according to a White House press release announcing her nomination, has had a long career as a biomedical researcher, innovator, and scientific leader — spent nearly 30 years at NIST holding several different positions.
Locascio’s most recent role for the agency was as its Acting Principal Deputy Director and Associate Director for Laboratory Programs, which saw her overseeing NIST’s internal scientific research and laboratory efforts across campuses in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado.
NIST plays a vital role in the evaluation and standards of biometric technology, and has been at the forefront of some of the biggest stories in the industry over the past several years.
In December of 2019, NIST published a study that confirmed the existence of racial bias in many of the most popular facial recognition algorithms used throughout the world.
The study tested approximately 18 million photos of more than 8 million people taken from databases run by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, and was conducted on 189 algorithms submitted voluntarily by 99 companies including Microsoft, Panasonic, and SenseTime.
Among the findings of the study was that Asian and African American people (women in particular) were in some cases up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition technology than white men.
The potential appointment has been met with praise, with former NIST Director and Commerce Undersecretary for Standards and Technology Walker Cogan calling Locascio “an inventor and champion for innovation” and “a true friend of technology transfer,” adding that she was prepared for this role due to her character and background.
July 26, 2021 — by Tony Bitzionis