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Academia Fights to Retain Talent As Facebook, Google, and Microsoft Pirate Their Best Artificial Intelligence Experts

May 05, 2016 10:49 AM EDT
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As technology continues to progress, the demand for artificial intelligence experts has reached a point where the best minds are treated as diamond mines and are being offered great opportunities by corporations, entrepreneurs and other organizations like Facebook and Google. There's nothing wrong with that since these companies are recognizing the valuable contribution of AI experts in their future endeavors. The downside is that the academe is fighting to retain their own talents to help shape even more future AI experts.

The Economist calls AI talent "million dollar babies". In a world run by computer programs and algorithms and new technologies, it is not surprising that companies are fighting to hire the best of the best. In the same report, they said that last year alone tech giants spent a total of $8.5 billion on artificial intelligence deals.

The unlikely industry directly affected by this high demand is the academe. According to the report by The Economist, 40 staff of the National Robotics Engineering Centre at Carnegie Mellon University were recruited by Uber last year. This means the 140 headcount of the university is now down by nearly 30% because they decided to dedicate their talent to the high technology firm. And this trend is happening everywhere.

It has caused alarm in many universities. "I cannot even hold onto my grad students... Companies are trying to hire them away before they graduate." Pedro Domingos, Professor at the University of Washington said in an interview.

Again, there's nothing wrong with choosing a company instead of the academe, but the question is how can this problem be addressed? Can there be a harmonious relationship between artificial intelligence investors and the academe?

It is safe to say that due to technological development in various fields, there will be more demand for artificial intelligence experts to sustain the visionary projects of giant companies like Facebook and Google.

Facebook for example, just developed an artificial intelligence program for the blind which will enable their hand phones to read captions of photos posted on their social media platform. And they are surely creating more of this helpful technology and thus, will continuously require more talents to help created their projects.

Andrew Ng, a former Stanford talent who moved to Google said ""AI is so hot right now. There are so many opportunities and so few people to work on them". AI talents also decide to leave the academe due to "astrological" wages offered to them said Tara Sinclair, Chief Economist at Indeed.

Nature said the depleting number of AI experts in the academe greatly concerns some individuals like Pieter Abbeel of the University of California who said that "Losing faculty members reduces the number of students that can be trained, especially at PhD level."

But experts recognize that what's happening is part of the intrinsic nature of the academe which is to supply talents to the world outside the universities, just like artificial intelligence experts.

It also means that the depleting number of experts is equivalent to less progress in artificial intelligence research. They are also encouraging scouted AI talents to continue their job at universities, because no matter how small their contribution is, it will still help in producing the next generations of talents.

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