US in 'arms race' with China for A.I. tech and talent, says billionaire tech investor

  • We ignore Chinese artificial intelligence at our own peril, Breyer Capital CEO James Breyer told CNBC.
  • He said companies in China such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu are "very close if not equal to our very best AI companies."
  • Competition is so fierce that great AI developers are being identified in college and are receiving NFL-quarterback-like contracts, he said.

The United States is in an "arms race" with China for artificial intelligence technology and talent, billionaire tech investor James Breyer told CNBC on Tuesday.

He said the "great" companies in China, such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu, are "very close if not equal to our very best AI companies," such as Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

"We ignore Chinese AI at our own peril," the founder and CEO of Breyer Capital said in an interview with "Power Lunch" from the sidelines of the Delivering Alpha conference, presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor.

In fact, the competition for talent is so fierce that potential employees are being treated like top professional athletes, said Breyer.

"A great AI developer today is being identified sophomore year, junior year in college and receiving NFL-quarterback-like contracts."

Breyer's comments echo a recent report by Goldman Sachs that said China's AI technology is fast catching up to that of the U.S.

"We believe AI technology will become a priority on the government's agenda, and we expect further national/regional policy and funding support on AI to follow," the bank said in a report titled "China's Rise in Artificial Intelligence."

Breyer said it's an "extraordinary" time right now for artificial intelligence and pointed to the Apple Watch's heart-tracker feature that is "all AI-based." CEO Tim Cook announced on Tuesday that the Apple Watch's heart tracker will notify users if it detects an elevated heart rate when a user isn't active.

"We need AI and technologies to manage patient outcomes in better ways," said Breyer.

— CNBC's Todd Haselton and Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.

Complete panel sessions | Delivering Alpha 2017

Alpha Masters

Advisory Board

  • Christopher Ailman

    Christopher J. Ailman is the chief investment officer of the California State Teachers' Retirement System.

  • Jeffrey H. Aronson, Co-Founder & Managing Principal, Centerbridge Partners

  • Robin Diamonte, Chief Investment Officer, United Technologies

Delivering Alpha


  • PGIM

    PGIM, the global asset management businesses of Prudential Financial, Inc., ranks among the top 10 largest asset managers in the world with more than $1 trillion in assets under management as of June 30, 2017.

  • NetJets logo

    NetJets Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company, is the worldwide leader in private aviation with the largest and most diverse private jet fleet in the world.

  • Through professional quality products, individual choice, and responsible innovation, iShares can help investors navigate today’s volatile markets


CNBC and Institutional Investor hosted the 7th Annual Delivering Alpha Conference in New York City. Delivering Alpha continued to be an incomparable who's who of the investor community, with hedge fund titans, private equity giants and top institutional investors offering candid views, along with illustrious political and economic commentators appearing in segments moderated by CNBC talent and II editors.

To request additional information on Delivering Alpha, please contact lyao@ttivanguard.com.