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China and US A.I. rivalry like space race of the 1950s, Jim Breyer says

  • China and the U.S.' competition for dominance in artificial intelligence (AI) is like the space race of the '50s, said Jim Breyer, founder of Breyer Capital
  • But while AI opportunities in the Middle Kingdom are 'astounding,' Breyer said that the "genius and creativity in Silicon Valley ... will always persist"
  • China aims to position itself as a world leader in AI by 2030

China and the U.S.' competition for dominance in artificial intelligence (AI) "does seem a little like the space race of the '50s," a leading technology venture capitalist said Wednesday.

Jim Breyer, founder of Breyer Capital, spoke to CNBC at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

"You have two remarkable, large, innovative countries, hiring, promoting – in many cases the best AI talent. And that leads to many opportunities for entrepreneurs," he said.

"It is astounding what we're seeing in terms of AI technology being applied to large verticals in China."

"If there is an opportunity for many European entrepreneurs, U.S.-based entrepreneurs, to start to tap in ... (to China), that's a way to double or triple the business plan metrics within 12-18 months," he added.

But ultimately, Breyer said: "I don't think they'll be number one, because I think there's still a level of genius and creativity in Silicon Valley that persists and will always persist."

China laid out plans in July to position itself as a world leader in AI by 2030. It aims to build a 1 trillion yuan ($150 billion) industry using a three-point roadmap, developing technology that will have application in its military and smart cities, for example.

Breyer acknowledged that there were companies that have been "unable to get China right." But he cited the example of Apple's growth in the Middle Kingdom, exemplified by demand for its newly-released iPhone X, as a successful case. Breyer suggested that education and health care were key sectors for development.

Lessons from investing in China "can be applied to other regions in really intelligent ways," added Dana Settle, co-founder and partner at venture capital firm Greycroft.

Investing in China "needs to be though a well-established partnership," Settle advised, speaking about her own work partnering with local funds.