The Artificial Intelligence Talent War

AI – the most disruptive technology so far?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be well aware of the importance of Artificial Intelligence for businesses across the board. In a society run on mass data, artificially intelligent platforms are the most effective way to collect and analyse enormous quantities of information. After the Internet, AI could well be the most disruptive technology we are yet to experience. It’s not surprising, then, that companies are vying to get their hands on experts in the field. In fact, the demand for personnel is so high that there aren’t enough specialists to go around. In the words of KPMG, talent is the new arms race. As tech giants gradually accumulate more and more AI expertise, how will this disrupt the use of AI within other businesses?

The scramble for talent
Although AI is clearly the technology of the hour, the demand for talent is not matched by supply. The autonomous car space has been particularly impacted by the need for programming teams and it shows. Automakers are willing to part with serious cash to acquire even modest companies. Last year, for example, General Motors bought 40 person startup, Cruise Automation, for almost $1 billion. As well as competing for programmers, automotive businesses are jealously guarding their intellectual property. In one ongoing lawsuit, Uber has been accused of stealing IP from Alphabet’s Waymo. As all of the promising startups are gobbled up by tech giants, companies have looked to academia as an alternative talent pool. In 2015, Uber shamelessly poached over 40 staff members from Carnegie Melon University’s robotics department, and there’s no doubt that other companies will seek out AI experts too. In fact, 54% of all deep learning specialists are employed by just six companies, and it’s a somewhat predictable list – Google, Microsoft, NVIDIA, IBM, Intel and Samsung.

The disruptive impact of the AI talent war
Whilst the big companies create a monopoly on talent, other businesses are struggling to keep up. SMEs in particular simply don’t have access to the same resources, either because they can’t afford them or because they just don’t exist. The scramble for talent is also problematic for academic institutions, which are losing their professors to competitive businesses. Without a high standard of teaching personnel, university subjects like engineering and computer science may be replaced by programmes set up by tech giants instead. The need for programmers and developers could eventually disrupt scholastic curriculums, prioritising STEM subjects over the arts and humanities. Further down the line, the monopoly on AI talent could enable the Silicon Valley dominants to become AI providers instead of just developers. Because they won’t be able to acquire their own talent, smaller companies will be forced to approach the likes of GAFA to access AI. In exchange for the use of Open Source platforms, client companies may have to exchange important data – and by now it’s pretty clear that data is power. If there was already suspicion surrounding the Partnership on AI, the total control of the hugely important technology by big firms isn’t exactly going to help. At the moment Google seems to be standing out as a potential winner in the race for AI talent, but the company has some serious competition from other technological powerhouses. Either way, controlling AI research and its practical applications is only going to make these firms stronger.

Any organisation that isn’t an influential tech giant seems to be fighting a losing battle in the AI talent war. It looks like major businesses like Google, Microsoft and perhaps Facebook will become the providers of artificially intelligent platforms, meaning that other companies will need to go through them in order to access the increasingly vital technology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could be frustrating for AI focused businesses that won’t be able to get the foothold they need to compete with major players. In response to the changing AI market, businesses shouldn’t just give up the search for expertise. Even if the rise of a select number of providers is inevitable, companies still have an opportunity to source, use or supply talent. The question is, could one Silicon Valley corporation become the singular provider of AI. . . and can we trust them with so much power?

Which tech giants could become AI providers? Will technology-related qualifications at universities be replaced by company programmes? Which big business, if any, is most likely to dominate the AI field? Share your comments below.