The United States is trying to develop a national strategy on artificial intelligence (AI) but is ignoring its single greatest advantage: many of the world’s brightest minds would like to live and work here but can’t. Just last night, President Trump met with some of America’s top CEO’s and expanding the supply of high skill visas was top of mind for them. Every year, tens of thousands of international students come to the United States to pursue graduate degrees in computer science fields but only a small fraction are allowed to stay in the country upon completion of their degree. To solidify our lead in the global AI development race, we must embrace our strength as the world’s melting pot for technical researchers and practitioners.
Over the past five to ten years, the pace of AI development has accelerated rapidly, with substantial gains in machine learning, which now powers driverless cars, personal voice assistants, autonomous drones and much more. While the United States has been on the cutting edge of technical research in this regard, China has also been in aggressive pursuit and has laid out plans to become the global leader in AI research by 2030.
This matters because AI has many dual-use military applications—meaning advances in civilian technology can easily be applied in military domains. Furthermore, because AI can improve and automate aspects of human decision-making, it has the potential to power productivity growth across a wide domain of industries, acting like a multiplier on the strength of the entire economy. AI thus has significant strategic importance for the long-term outlook of both U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
If ballooning salaries are any indication, there is a significant shortage of AI talent in the United States today. Typical AI specialists can expect to earn between $300,000 — $500,000 at major tech companies; numbers that are significantly higher than those of their peers in other computer-related subfields. Industry experts like Google’s Hal Varian have pointed to the scarcity of AI talent as the primary bottleneck on AI development and application. And what makes AI talent particularly interesting from the perspective of international competition is its zero-sum nature relative to other factors of production. Unlike venture capital or hardware, two other important AI inputs, skilled researchers can’t easily flow across borders or be rapidly scaled up when new opportunities arise. Building up adequate talent pipelines may eventually solve this problem but such a scenario could take many years to develop. In the meantime, the countries with the most AI talent will be the ones with the most AI progress.
Read the rest at The Hill.