Will AI’s development be hindered by a talent shortage in academia?

AI profssionals
AI professionals are fuel for the future, but will a talent shortage in academia hinder their progresions? Source: Shutterstock

Our artificial intelligence-fuelled future is set to disrupt industries across every spectrum. But are businesses truly ready for disruption with the reported shortage of AI professionals in academia?

Reuters found that AI-related positions are surging on job search sites including Indeed, Ziprecruiter and Glassdoor. While the number of students enrolled in AI-related university programmes are increasing, the number of AI-related jobs are outpacing supply. 

Meanwhile, tech giants are also scooping AI talent on university grounds.

In 2017, The Guardian reported that the private sector is poaching talent from university grounds, adding that they “cannot compete” with the offers thrown to lure them away from academia. For instance, one professor’s student left the university for a six-figure salary at Apple. 

Maja Pantic, Professor of Affective and Behavioural Computing at Imperial College London, was quoted saying that “the majority of top AI researchers moved to a handful of companies, meaning their skills and experience were not shared through society”. 

A Guardian survey of Britain’s top-ranking research universities found that “tech firms are hiring AI experts at a prodigious rate, fuelling a brain drain that has already hit research and teaching”. Meanwhile, one university executive warned of a “missing generation” of academics who would normally teach students and be the creative force behind research projects.

A 2015 report from The Wall Street Journal said technology companies like Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Amazon are scrambling to push the bounds of AI. To do that, they are stocking their research centres with big-name academics and aspiring PhD candidates. 

Universities are affected as a result of this practice. For instance, the Wall Street Journal found that the University of Washington “has become a Silicon Valley hunting ground”. At the time the report was written, they had already lost seven AI-related professors to Google.

Fuelling AI talents in academia

AI professionals

Do companies have a role to play in nurturing AI professionals? Source: Franck V./Unsplash

Following reports that universities are going to limit the number of student places due to staff shortages, five Dutch companies have banded together to pay for new professors in AI, reported DutchNews.nl

“Ahold Delhaize, Philips, KLM, ING and Dutch railway group NS will pay towards the salaries of at least 25 new academics as part of a project dubbed ‘Kickstart AI’,” it said. The report added that by placing the professors on partly corporate payrolls, their salaries increase, encouraging more to come forward. 

Quoting the Financieele Dagblad, it said the tenures will run for some five to 10 years, while several universities have already started recruitment drives. 

“The Netherlands has always been a technology pioneer, a frontrunner in AI development and innovation,” said Maarten de Rijke, Professor at the University of Amsterdam and Director of the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence in a press statement.

However, Maarten said that without a national AI strategy and swift action, “the severe shortage of AI talent in our country remains one of the biggest roadblocks to realising the full potential of AI talent and technology. 

“The joint efforts between universities and companies, as part of Kickstart AI, underlines the urgency in accelerating AI education and talent retention and signals our commitment to collaboration and investments needed to accelerate AI innovation in the Netherlands.”

If more AI professors are needed in universities across the globe to fuel the demand for AI professionals, should other companies also take a cue from the Dutch? While the answer remains to be seen, it could be a venture worth exploring. 

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