By Chris Adams

Artificial intelligence will be a major driver of economic and national security in the coming decades. And the U.S. has long been a leader in tech innovation worldwide.

But is the U.S. at risk of slipping behind in the race to develop and adopt effective AI technology?

That’s the contention of Joshua New, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation, a Washington think tank. New (bio, Twitter) led National Press Foundation fellows through a discussion of what government leaders are doing – and not doing – to foster an environment that can allow artificial intelligence technology to flourish.

“AI is really important, and the U.S. is lucky in that we have some natural advantages,” New said. The U.S. has long been a tech giant, and the research done by companies, universities and agencies such as the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have for decades given the U.S. a leg up.

But today, other countries are far more aggressive and deliberate in how they want to purse AI. China, he said, “is very clearly gunning for the top spot here.”

Beyond that, Chinese developers aren’t restricted the same way U.S. developers are.

“China just does not care about the consumer protection and privacy concerns we have in the U.S.,” New said. “Despite the U.S. having a lead, we’re playing by different rules here.”

New detailed what China and other countries are doing. He also talked about what the U.S. is doing to fund the kind of research and development that can lead to artificial intelligence breakthroughs. Among steps the U.S. needs to maintain and boost its AI competitiveness, New said: boost federal research in technology R&D; better train its workforce; and make data more available by reducing some of the restrictions on researchers using it.