How can Europe stop the AI talent exodus

“Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years.” 

Comparing artificial intelligence (AI) to electricity may sound hyperbolic, but this bold analogy from renowned computer scientist, Andrew Ng, highlights just how much of an impact AI could potentially have on our society in the future. 

There are hundreds of industries, from automotive to e-commerce, already utilising AI and machine learning technologies and plenty more that seem ready to gain huge advancements from the implementation of it. At the heart of the global innovation in AI are the skilled experts, crucial for researching and implementing these state-of-the-art technologies. 

The problem is the most experienced and skilled AI professionals are hard to come by.

Talented data scientists and AI researchers are leaving European businesses and universities to seek high salaries offered by tech giants in the US. As a result, Europe has a struggle on its hands to stop the AI talent exodus. 

According to research from, the demand for AI professionals outnumbers the supply two to one, however we are seeing this is as high as ten to one for some specific AI research positions. With this well documented dearth of AI talent, the movement of AI experts across the pond is not only detrimental to advancements of European business, but to the education of the next generation of budding AI experts in Europe. 

Maja Pantic, Professor of Affective and Behavioural Computing at Imperial College in London believes that “society will suffer” as a result of AI researchers flocking to the tech giants in the US.

“The real problem is these people are not dispersed through society. The intellect and expertise is concentrated in a small number of companies.”

But how can Europe stop the brain drain of talent?

Top salaries and exciting projects

As well as the reputation of the tech giants, one of the biggest draws to the US is the sky-high salaries on offer. If Europe is going to compete with the spending power of the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple, businesses need to be able to pay data scientists, AI researchers and machine learning experts competitive salaries. 

While some businesses might not be able to compete from a salary perspective, being able to offer opportunities to work on exciting projects and deliver tangible, real world products can be a huge draw to AI professionals. 

Contrary to popular belief, some of the large AI research centres in Europe are on the front line of pioneering developments; from autonomous vehicles to smart homes, several of the most advanced AI product developments are taking place. This is good news for some AI experts, who may be more drawn to seeing their AI research applied into physical products. 

Government investment

While businesses are at the heart of AI innovations, there’s a definite need for governments in Europe to invest in AI now to reap the business rewards in the future. 

The European Commission says it hopes to announce its “coordinated plan on AI” by the end of 2018, working with all member states to maximise the impact of investment into AI and ensure Europe remains competitive with the US and China. 

As part of the announcement, the European Commission said its target is to increase investments into AI research and innovation by €20 billion by the end of 2020 in both the public and private sector.  

Purpose-built AI institutes

In an open letter to European governments in April, nine leading scientists urged authorities to act on the exodus of talent to the US and China by building purpose-built institutes across Europe devoted to AI research. 

The proposed European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems (Ellis) would have centres in a handful of European countries with the aim of stopping the migration of AI professionals and keep the continent at the forefront of AI research. 

Given how crucial talented AI professionals will be to future innovations across almost all sectors, coupled with the skills shortage, those with these niche skills have all the power to unlock the best salaries and work on the projects that they are most passionate about. 


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