As competition for AI talent soars, salaries are going through the roof. Ph.D.s out of college or specialists with less education but more practical experience can earn $300,000-$500,000 through salary and stock benefits, reports The New York Times. Like professional athletes, well-known AI specialists have hit compensations in the single- or double-digit millions range and are able to negotiate new contracts every few years, according to the Times.
High prices are driven primarily by a shortage of talent — with a mere 10,000 individuals worldwide having advanced AI skills. Big name companies with vast resources are also culling the limited talent pool to establish dominance in the AI field, according to the Times. As top talent is pulled away from academia, the difficulty of training a new generation of AI experts to meet demand is only compounded, according to the report.
Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all heavily invested in AI and are known for offering generous salaries to top talent, but they are now also competing against the auto industry, which is honing in on self-driving car tech.
Gartner estimates the number of IT job candidates in the worldwide talent pool with specific AI experience is as low as 1,300 — or one-millionth of the workforce. For 1,300 people and their families, this is great news, but for companies without the resources of Google or Microsoft, it can be a death sentence for AI efforts.
Many startups, however, are pushing back against the domination of the AI market by tech titans. Elon Musk's and Sam Altman's OpenAI pried AI researchers from Google to share AI research, and Diego Oppenheimer's Algorithmia offers an open market with AI algorithms to combat "AI hegemony," reports Wired.
Not all startups, however, have the largesse of Elon Musk or a background with Microsoft, like Oppenheimer. So what is the average tech company to do? Chances are, building a holistic in-house system like Uber's Michelangelo platform or Airbnb's AI system is not feasible for most. Companies can, however, invest in their workforce or offer incentives for employees to take part in trainings and skill enhancements.
AI newcomers can take advantage of many tools put in place without having to go back to school. Research and algorithms from startups like OpenAI and Algorithmia, Andrew Ng's AI training program on Coursera, open-source libraries from Google and Microsoft and Google's new "AI crash courses" are among the readily available AI tools and training for coders who want to learn more.