Some of the tech world’s biggest companies, like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and others are placing huge bets on the future of AI. AI specialists, engineers with extensive AI background, and even a PhDs in mathematics or computer science are being targeted for jobs at some of the biggest tech companies in the world. Indeed, well-known names in the AI field have received compensation in salary and shares in a company’s stock that total single- or double-digit millions over a four- or five-year period. These are lavish salaries even by Silicon Valley standards, and its plain to see just how valuable the industry considers AI – and how quickly the rush is to be first to market.
Salaries are soaring so quickly that an inside joke within the industry is that AI specialists need to be handled like professional athletes, with short-term contracts and salary caps. It’s also true that they often move from company to company and opportunity to opportunity, just like professional ball players do.
At the highest end of the compensation spectrum are executives with experience managing AI projects. In a court filing earlier this year, Google revealed that one of the leaders of its self-driving-car division, Anthony Levandowski, took home over $120 million in incentives before joining Uber last year. Facebook and Amazon are also pouring money into tasks it thinks AI can help solve, like building digital assistants for smartphones and home gadgets and spotting offensive content.
But these high-profile jobs are not just limited to Silicon Valley and the biggest players in tech. The auto industry is also competing with the tech industry for the same experts who can help build self-driving cars. Uber hired 40 people from Carnegie Mellon’s groundbreaking AI program in 2015 to work on its self-driving-car project.
The primary reason for these exorbitant salaries is the knowledge that AI will only grow in importance in the coming decades, and it is important to fast track research and development now. But there is also a supply issue—there is not a ton of AI specialists out there, and the big companies are trying to sweeten the deal as much as they can so they attract the top talent. Solving tough AI problems is not writing code or building apps—those jobs are a dime a dozen in tech. For AI, in the entire world there are probably fewer than 10,000 people who have the skills necessary to tackle serious artificial intelligence research and application.
Will you or someone you know join this elite club of AI experts?