- Tech companies want to hire artificial intelligence (AI) specialists so badly that they're paying astronomical salaries to get them, The New York Times (NYT) reports. Tech giants have big plans for AI, including smartphones that face-scan, coffee table gizmos that talk, driverless cars and push-button healthcare services.
- Driving the posh salaries for AI specialists is the talent shortage. Fewer than 10,000 people have the skills needed to take on AI projects, says NYT, citing research results from Element AI, a Montreal-based independent lab. AI specialists, from a new graduate with a Ph.D to those with less education and a few years' experience, can make $300,000 to $500,000 a year or more in wages and company stock. Industry insiders quip that AI salaries are soaring so high that the tech industry might need to place an NFL-style salary cap on AI experts' earnings.
- NYT says DeepMind, an AI lab, is the quintessential example of how much tech firms are willing to pay for AI expertise. Google bought the company in 2014 for $650 million when the British lab had only 50 people. In financial reports from last year, DeepMind reported having a staff of 400, each earning about $345,000.
Amazon announced last month that it was looking to hire more AI experts for Alexa, its AI-operated assistant, at the company's Cambridge, UK, facility. Salaries weren't disclosed, but Alexa-based devices are expected to bring Amazon $10 billion in profit by 2020. That figure alone should give tech employers a sense of just how serious the war for AI talent is.
A Tech Pro Research survey found that employers want to hire AI experts, but 40% of respondents said their IT staff don't have the skills to carry out and support AI and machine learning. The rarity of AI talent is commanding huge salaries and will keep doing so until more people are trained in the field.
Tech companies might have trouble finding AI talent, but they've found a shortcut of sorts: acquiring AI companies. Apple bought Turi, Intel acquired Nervana, Whetlab owns Magic Pony and Twitter bought Madbits. Employers might have to team up with or outright purchase other entities to get the AI technology talent they desperately need.