NSF News

New report identifies pathways to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in key technology areas

National network pursued data and advanced analytics methods and tools to advance capabilities to identify potentially optimal directions for federal research and development funding

A network of universities funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation completed a yearlong, nearly $4  million pilot effort with the release of a report – Securing America’s Future: A Framework for Critical Technology Assessment – on how to enable timely situational awareness of global technology and production capabilities, rigorous methods to quantify the potential value of innovations, and tools for quantifying opportunities across national objectives.

Over the last year, the National Network for Critical Technology Assessment, sponsored by NSF, brought together leading scholars from across the country to pilot analytical approaches to assessing technology maturity, trajectories and impact that can drive development of data-driven options for future government investments. The network looked at four technologies at varying levels of maturity: artificial intelligence, semiconductors, biopharmaceuticals and energy and critical materials . Crosscutting efforts also focused on building systematic mechanisms to assess U.S. global competitiveness in key technology areas.

"Understanding where government funding in key technology areas is likely to offer the greatest impact with respect to U.S. competitiveness is essential in driving limited resources toward the most impactful opportunities," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "This pilot helped map current capabilities and identify where additional investments are needed to develop the science and technology that will drive advanced technology assessment and prediction. Integrating these types of approaches into our decision-making processes could have a transformative effect on how we invest in research and innovation."

“The National Network for Critical Technology Assessment brought together thought-leaders from 13 universities across the country to demonstrate that new data and analytics approaches can enable an assessment of critical technologies," said Erica Fuchs, director of the pilot year National Network. "This assessment can ensure that the country makes smart investments in the new technologies vital to national security, prosperity, and broad-based social well-being. Building the intellectual foundations, data, and analytic tools needed for this type of critical technology assessment requires mobilizing, synthesizing, and integrating capabilities across our nation’s rich variety of researchers, disciplines, and institutions. The Network put the building blocks for this effort into place to support NSF in its vital mission.”

The findings of this initial work set the foundations for the Assessing and Predicting Technology Outcomes program launched this summer. Through this novel program, NSF seeks to forge a better understanding of and ability to predict advancements in a specific technology's capabilities, production and use. The program will use new data sources coupled with emerging technologies, such as machine learning and predictive modeling to forecast outcomes of technology investments. Such capabilities, if developed, could provide a real-time assessment of U.S. competitiveness in specific technology areas, identify gaps in the funding environment that federal investments could overcome, and evaluate the anticipated effectiveness of federal funding initiatives on U.S. innovation and competitiveness. Systematic capabilities like these do not currently exist.

The National Network for Critical Technology Assessment will host an event on Oct. 24, 2023, to review the full report. Learn more on the event website.