There is virtual unanimity that mastery of emerging technologies is key to prevailing in the 21st-century geopolitical competition. And as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned, whoever becomes the leader in artificial intelligence (AI) “will become the ruler of the world.”

Consensus quickly breaks down after that. There isn’t unanimity on which technologies matter or how to “master” them. There is widespread enthusiasm about “innovation,” with a resulting flurry of government activity to fund and spur that creativity. This could be the wrong approach, however. Success in the tech competition won’t be the product of entrepreneurs fueled by an idea and the prospect of a big initial public offering toiling away in garages and incubators. Governments should instead focus on diffusing new technologies throughout the economy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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