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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.

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