At the New York Times on Sunday, Cade Metz, whose work on the AI talent market we’ve looked at before, wrote about what may be the key factor allowing tech giants to corner the market for AI talent—namely, salaries far above what smaller and less wealthy competitors could afford to pay:
Typical A.I. specialists, including both Ph.D.s fresh out of school and people with less education and just a few years of experience, can be paid from $300,000 to $500,000 a year or more in salary and company stock, according to nine people who work for major tech companies or have entertained job offers from them. All of them requested anonymity because they did not want to damage their professional prospects.
Well-known names in the A.I. 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. And at some point they renew or negotiate a new contract, much like a professional athlete. … Salaries are spiraling so fast that some joke the tech industry needs a National Football League-style salary cap on A.I. specialists. “That would make things easier,” said Christopher Fernandez, one of Microsoft’s hiring managers. “A lot easier.”
The concentration of AI expertise in the hands of a few large, rich companies is a matter of concern because it runs the risk of shutting out not only smaller enterprises and startups, but also universities from hiring these cutting-edge technologists. If the academy is unable to compete for PhD holders in this field, that runs the risk of creating a shortage of professors to teach the next generation of AI specialists and conduct research in the public interest. Recognizing the transformative power of this technology, some tech leaders have talked about making AI innovations open and accessible rather than proprietary, while some AI experts are turning down industry jobs to work at universities or research institutes, but half-million-dollar salaries are hard to resist.