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DHS sets its research sights on 8 emerging technologies

The Homeland Security Department’s Innovation, Research and Development Strategic Plan focuses its investment the next seven years on AI, cybersecurity, biotech and more. 

Artificial intelligence, advanced sensing capabilities and biotechnologies are three of the eight emerging technologies in which the Department of Homeland Security plans to invest more agency resources over the next seven fiscal years, according to a new strategic plan released on Tuesday. 

Outlined in the new DHS Innovation, Research & Development Strategic Plan, eight scientific areas will be research focal points to further solidify U.S. national security posture. The areas listed in the plan include advanced sensing, AI and autonomous systems, biotechnology, climate change, communications and networks, cybersecurity, data integration and analysis, and digital identity and trust. 

These will guide DHS’s internal research efforts for the fiscal years 2024 to 2030.

“This visionary roadmap, informed by scientific efforts, will empower DHS and its components to reduce risks to the homeland through optimized innovation, research and development investments,” Dimitri Kusnezov, the DHS under secretary for science and technology said in a press release. “The technologies resulting from our IRD investments play a critical role in equipping the Department’s front-line operators with necessary tools to outpace our adversaries and enhance our preparedness and response capabilities.”

Each of these technologies works to support DHS missions, covering areas like countering terrorism and preventing security threats, managing U.S. borders and building a resilient national infrastructure to respond to a broad swath of incidents, including cyber attacks.

Integrating the strategic plan will take both a whole-of-government effort along with participation from academia and private sector partners. 

DHS leadership has spotlit the threats created by new emerging technologies before, with agency Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifying before a Senate hearing in 2023 on the growing national security risks behind new and widely used systems. 

One component of the agency’s strategic plan is upgrading current biometric systems. DHS has already leveraged biometric and other facial recognition technologies over the years, and the agency noted in the plan that it will investigate upgrading and securing its biometric infrastructure. 

“This will require improving current security capabilities for screening people and their belongings, such as increasingly accurate biometric capabilities to improve identity validation and verification of people accessing secure federal facilities or other sensitive sites while also safeguarding privacy,” the plan says.

The plan also follows President Joe Biden’s October 2023 executive order on AI, which tasked multiple agencies, including DHS, with new responsibilities to help the federal government understand and mitigate risks with widespread AI technology creation and adoption. The plan cited the executive order, along with the National Cybersecurity Strategy and  National Biodefense Strategy of 2022, as two guiding documents.