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Defense & Security

U.S. Government Seeks Information on How to Control Emerging Technology

Quantum, AI, Navigation, and Biotechnology are among the listed technologies (updated).

12 December 2018, SPIE Newsroom. DOI:

On 19 November, the U.S. Department of Commerce will start accepting comments on how to control certain technologies for export. This request stems from the concern that some technologies, which are still considered emerging, have not been evaluated for their national security risk, and therefore are currently not controlled through regulation. Many of these emerging technologies are critical to the optics and photonics community and any changes to their classification for export control could have a broad impact, so it is vital that the industry help shape these decisions.

The Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) released in the Federal Register for public inspection 16 November, lists the 14 technology areas that the U.S. government is evaluating, and requests comment on "criteria for defining and identifying emerging technologies." The ANPRM also seeks assistance in identifying specific emerging technologies that are essential to the national security within these areas. The technology list includes:

  1. Biotechnology
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology
  3. Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) technology
  4. Microprocessor technology
  5. Advanced computing technology
  6. Data analytics technology
  7. Quantum information and sensing technology
  8. Logistics technology
  9. Additive manufacturing (e.g., 3D printing)
  10. Robotics
  11. Brain-computer interfaces
  12. Hypersonics
  13. Advanced materials
  14. Advanced surveillance technologies

In addition to seeking criteria to apply in controlling these technologies, Commerce also seeks information on the current status of development of the technologies, both in the U.S. and internationally, and what impact export controls would have on U.S. technological leadership.

"In optics and photonics, we often work with and enable new and emerging technologies," says Kent Rochford, CEO of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. "This is part of what makes our industry so exciting, and is important that we, as a community, work with policymakers to ensure a thorough understanding of our fields and their various impacts on our economies and national security. I encourage all members of the U.S.-based optics and photonics community to weigh in on this important issue with feedback, comments, and suggestions, so that we can ensure that these decisions are made with the most accurate and complete information possible."

The ANPRM is a direct result of legislation passed by congress in August titled the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA). SPIE covered the details of this legislation in an article posted in October.

It is worth noting that provisions in this new law require any new controls adopted by the U.S. as part of this review and control process to be brought to the Wassenaar Arrangement, the international body which sets control standards for 42 other countries. Therefore, this U.S.-based process has the potential to have a global affect on export controls for emerging technologies.

Due to requests from many organizations and companies, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has agreed to extend the comment period from 19 December to 10 January. For the community of stakeholders working in the area of technologies listed, engagement will be necessary to ensure that the execution of the regulatory process does not hamper growth in many significant research fields.

SPIE will continue to engage the administration on behalf of the optics and photonics community as the ANPRM and related proposed regulations move forward. Additionally, these and other issues related to export controls will be discussed in a series of meetings on 5 and 6 February at the upcoming Photonics West conference in San Francisco, California. For further details, see the industry program for Photonics West 2019.

The following website will accept public comments starting Monday 19 November: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2018-25221.

Jennifer Douris O’Bryan, Government Affairs Director for SPIEJennifer Douris O'Bryan is the Government Affairs Director for SPIE and the Chair of the Sensor and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee (SITAC) at the Department of Commerce.