It's going to be a high-tech century ahead but Americans aren't going to be in charge, if a new survey is on the money.

A new report by Duke University shows that 72 per cent of Americans expect the technological advancements of the 21st century to surpass those of the 20th - although only a third give themselves a grade of A or B for understanding 'the world of engineers and what they do'.

Of the 808 adults questioned for the survey, under half believe that the United States will lead the way in solving the century's technological challenges, from economy to global warming.

China was cited by 20 per cent of all respondents as being most likely to assume a global leadership role in technology, followed by Japan and Europe at 10 per cent each, and India at 4 percent. Americans were just as likely to say their country's ability to compete technologically over the past century has worsened as to say it has improved.

Still a chance to pull up Stars & Stripes socks

Among those who see a decline in America's ability to compete technologically, 55 per cent say the situation is temporary and 39 per cent say it is long term.

"Americans understand that innovation is critical to their future, but also recognize that our country's continued leadership isn't assured just because we invented everything from the airplane to the personal computer," said Thomas Katsouleas, dean of the Pratt School.

In response to a list of major engineering challenges facing the world, Americans gave high priority to developing better medicines, providing clean water around the world and developing environmentally friendly power sources. They gave less priority to securing cyberspace against attacks or to restoring and improving deteriorating urban infrastructures.

A majority of the respondents (58 per cent) said engineering is losing out to other professions when it comes to young people choosing careers. They said this is happening because engineering does not pay as much as other fields, requires extensive schooling and is seen as being difficult.