FYI: Science Policy News

White House Tweaks List of Critical and Emerging Technologies

FEB 13, 2024
The White House has refined its list of key technologies relevant to national security but cautions the document “should not be interpreted as a priority list for either policy development or funding.”
Mitch Ambrose headshot
Director of Science Policy News American Institute of Physics

Side view of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

(Lea Shanley, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

Yesterday, the White House published an updated list of critical and emerging technologies (CETs) that it deems as “potentially significant to U.S. national security.” Most of the technologies are unchanged from the previous version issued in 2022, which updated the inaugural list from 2020.

The new list consists of dozens of technologies categorized within 18 overarching topic areas:

  • Advanced Computing
  • Advanced Engineering Materials
  • Advanced Gas Turbine Engine Technologies
  • Advanced and Networked Sensing and Signature Management
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Biotechnologies
  • Clean Energy Generation and Storage
  • Data Privacy, Data Security, and Cybersecurity Technologies
  • Directed Energy
  • Highly Automated, Autonomous, and Uncrewed Systems, and Robotics
  • Human-Machine Interfaces
  • Hypersonics
  • Integrated Communication and Networking Technologies
  • Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Technologies
  • Quantum Information and Enabling Technologies
  • Semiconductors and Microelectronics
  • Space Technologies and Systems

Among the main changes are the addition of PNT technologies, which previously were covered as a subarea of space technologies. The area covering cybersecurity technologies is also new and subsumes topics that were previously covered in an area focused on digital payment technologies, and the area covering clean energy merges two previous areas covering renewable energy and nuclear energy.

The subareas contain more changes, though they largely represent refinements of the previous subareas. Some of the completely new subareas are carbon management technologies, generative AI systems, micro- and nano-electromechanical systems, and novel architectures for non-Von Neumann computing.

The White House cautions that the list is not intended as a formal prioritization mechanism, writing in italics that it “should not be interpreted as a priority list for either policy development or funding.”

“Instead, this list should be used as a resource to: inform future efforts that promote U.S. technological leadership; cooperate with allies and partners to advance and maintain shared technological advantages; develop, design, govern, and use CETs that yield tangible benefits for society and are aligned with democratic values; and develop U.S. government measures that respond to threats against U.S. security,” the White House explains.

The White House typically sets R&D budget priorities through an annual memorandum co-signed by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The CET list was developed through an interagency process overseen by OSTP in coordination with the National Security Council.

One concrete way the White House has used the CET list is to guide efforts to attract STEM workers to the U.S. The recent executive order on AI contains provisions that aim to smooth the visa process for experts in critical and emerging technologies, which the order defines using the CET list. The White House has also picked a subset of CETs as a focus for U.S. participation in international standards-setting organizations.

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