China, United States compete for AI talent

March 24, 2017

AI has been through many seasons, including two major AI winters. An AI spring seems to be in place now, with increasing computational power bringing fair weather. Yet a shortage of AI experts is resulting in clouds on the horizon, and AI spring may last awhile before summer arrives.

Now, reports Li Yuan in The Wall Street Journal, China and the United States are in fierce competition for AI talent, and China is coming up short.

Yuan quotes Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, as saying, “There’s very few high-level AI talent at Chinese companies. Many are just so-so and not original. They won’t be able to produce first-class work without the guidance of high-level talent.”

The latest indication blow to Chinese AI is the departure of chief scientist Andrew Ng from Baidu. He has not said where he is going, but he did succinctly present his view of the AI environments in the two countries. “The U.S. is very good at inventing new technology ideas,” he said, as quoted by Liza Lin in The Wall Street Journal. “China is very good at inventing and quickly shipping AI products. I’m happy also to have had an opportunity to contribute to the rise of AI in both China and the U.S.”

Yuan reports that Baidu and other Chinese companies have opened AI labs in the U.S. to attract AI experts who preferred to live here. Yet the separation of Baidu’s Silicon Valley lab researchers from the company’s core decision makers limited their effectiveness. Ng, born in the UK to parents from Hong Kong, split his time at Baidu between Beijing and Silicon Valley.

Chinese AI companies do have one advantage, Yuan reports—a vast amount of data, “…created by 731 million online users. In China, people use their smartphones to a much greater degree than in the U.S., and that has created a much richer trove of data for researchers.”

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