home Currencies Just how shallow is the artificial intelligence talent pool?

Just how shallow is the artificial intelligence talent pool?

Jean-Francois Gagne in the Element AI offices in Montreal.Christinne Muschi for National Post

Everyone agrees that the competition to hire people who know how to build artificial intelligence systems is intense. It’s turned once-staid academic conferences into frenzied meet markets for corporate recruiters and driven the salaries of the top researchers to seven figures.

But how scarce AI talent really is has been something of an industry mystery. Last year Element AI Inc., a Montreal-based startup, estimated that there were fewer than 10,000 people in the world with the expertise needed to create machine learning systems. The figure was widely cited in media stories and among recruiting firms, although it wasn’t clear how Element AI arrived at it. In December, Tencent Holdings Ltd., the Chinese internet giant, published its own estimate of global AI talent, putting the figure at a far higher 200,000 to 300,000 people who were either AI researchers or industry practitioners.

Which is correct? The answer matters to companies trying to decide whether to build their own AI and data science teams or contract with consulting firms and third parties to create AI-based solutions for them. It also has an impact on the salaries those AI experts can command. Element AI has rejoined the debate with a new estimate — and some transparency about its methodology. According to a report published Wednesday, there are about 22,000 PhD-educated researchers working on AI, of which about 3,000 are currently seeking work.

Element AI said it scoured LinkedIn for people who earned PhDs since 2015 and whose profiles also mentioned technical terms such as deep learning, artificial neural networks, computer vision, natural language processing or robotics. In addition, to make the cut, people needed coding skills in programming languages such as Python, TensorFlow or Theano.