Spielberg, 66, one of the most powerful and respected film-makers in Hollywood, said he was flattered by the appointment.
"It is an honour and a privilege to preside over the jury of a festival that proves, again and again, that cinema is the language of the world," he said in a statement.
The Cannes Film Festival organisers said it was the broad reach of his film-making that had made him an obvious choice to head up the jury.
The festival is one of the highlights in the international cinema calendar and this year runs between May 15th and May 26th.
Spielberg's work cuts across a broad spectrum "between entertainment films and serious reflections on history, racism and the human condition", festival organizers said in the statement.
Thierry Fremaux, of the organising committee, said: "Because of his films, and the many causes he holds dear, he's year-in year-out the equal of the very greatest Hollywood filmmakers.
"We are very proud to count him among us."
Spielberg has presented several films at Cannes, though most of them were not in competition. But his 1974 film 'The Sugarland Express' did pick up the best screenplay prize.
He is best known for a succession of box office hits in the 1970s and '80s with films including 'E.T.', 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Poltergeist'.
But it was not until he turned to darker subjects that he won his first Oscars.
He won his first best director award in 1994 for 'Schindler's List', based on a true story about a man's efforts to save his Jewish workers from the Holocaust.
The film, which starred Liam Neeson in the title role, picked up seven Oscars, including the coveted best picture.
He won a second best director Oscar five years later for the devastating WWII drama 'Saving Private Ryan', starring Tom Hanks, which won five Oscars.
Since then, Spielberg has moved comfortably between the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment with which he made his name to those tackling more serious themes, such as last year's 'Lincoln'.
Despite leading the nominations ahead of Sunday's Oscars ceremony with 12 nods, the presidential biopic lost out in the best picture category to 'Argo', while Ang Lee beat Spielberg to best director for 'The Life of Pi'.