Friday 10 July 2020

AI braindrain threatens ‘new generation of scientists’

Universities are facing a severe shortage of artificial intelligence lecturers as PhDs opt for jobs outside academia or go abroad, the Financieele Dagblad reported on Monday.

At the moment some 90% of AI graduates already find work outside academia and there are fears that a recruitment drive by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States will be powerful pull on the remaining 10%.

‘The MIT will try to get our best graduates,’ Maarten de Rijke, director of the new Dutch national institute for artificial intelligence ICAI told the paper. ‘If that happens we won’t have anyone to teach a new generation of scientists.’

AI is a very popular choice among students but, the FD writes, there are too few people to teach them. The combined Amsterdam universities only have a total of 30 lecturers, for example. Some 700 students wanted to do an AI Master’s degree in Amsterdam this year but there were only 200 places.

One way of solving the problem would be to up university salaries, De Rijke said. University lecturers earn half that of an AI specialist in industry while in the United States salaries can be five times as high.

But, De Rijke says, it is not just better salaries that will persuade people to stay on at the universities. An environment which offers cooperation with talented colleagues, access to the best data and career perspectives is also a major draw. However, he warned, a big hurdle is the lack of affordable housing.

Earlier this year European scientists warned that Europe is lagging behind in the global AI race, with China and the US as leading investors, the FD said.

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