Global demand for AI experts surges as EU struggles to recruit


Soon after Italian watchdog Garante took on ChatGPT with a temporary shutdown locally last year, it tried to strengthen its team by hiring four artificial intelligence (AI) experts.

But Italy’s data protection agency could not recruit the people it wanted, with a dozen candidates dropping out over issues including pay, highlighting a growing challenge facing regulators around the world.

“The search process went worse than our low expectations,” Garante board member Guido Scorza told Reuters, adding: “We will come up with something else, but so far we have lost.”

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Demand for AI experience and expertise has surged since OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT in late 2022, and regulators have found themselves vying for talent from the same shallow pool.

But relatively low pay, long hiring processes and visa problems are thwarting their hiring ambitions, industry participants familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Other public bodies in the European Union could soon face similar problems, just as the bloc rolls out some of the most sweeping and impactful AI regulations in the world.

A slogan related to artificial intelligence is displayed on a screen in Intel pavilion, during the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 16, 2024. AI experts are in high demand, but governments are having trouble attracting and retaining candidates. (Reuters/Denis Balibouse/File Photo)

The EU has been recruiting for its newly opened AI Office, which will oversee enforcement of the AI Act, as well as the European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency (ECAT) which covers both the AI Act and the Digital Services Act.

“The biggest problem will be enforcement and getting people for this,” said EU lawmaker Dragos Tudorache, who oversaw the drafting of the AI Act.

Meanwhile, Britain continues to recruit for its own AI Safety Institute, launched in the wake of the summit it held for world leaders in October.

Many of the public sector roles advertised at these organizations offer salaries at a fraction of industry standards and appear geared towards recent graduates, which some warn may deter the best talent.

TALENT SURGE

Around the world, governments have acknowledged the need for AI expertise to keep tabs on the rapidly-developing technology.

The United States has demonstrated a willingness to pay more and be more flexible about its recruitment processes.

Under President Joe Biden, the U.S. Office for Personnel Management (OPM) has granted government agencies the power to quickly hire AI expertise, as part of an ongoing “talent surge” in government, expediting the usual recruitment process.

In February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a first-of-its-kind initiative to create a new “AI Corps”, aiming to recruit 50 AI experts.

A DHS job ad offers IT specialists, focused on AI, a salary of $143,000 per year, similar to the private sector.

By contrast, EU agencies, including the AI Office and ECAT, have offered around $65,166.

An EU spokesperson told Reuters that ECAT currently employed 35 experts, and planned to hire 100 more for the AI Office.

“Working with the Office presents a unique and thrilling opportunity for passionate professionals to contribute significantly to shaping trustworthy AI in Europe and beyond,” they said.

In Britain, the AI Safety Institute has offered stronger incentives for its most senior posts. Recently advertised roles – including chief information security officer and head of engineering – offered up to $170,829.

However, other roles offered much less. One overseeing the societal impacts of AI offered up to 47,000 pounds.

Another British government role, at the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT), offered up to 76,000 pounds for a position as head of AI regulation strategy and implementation.

Ian Hogarth, chair of the AI Safety Institute, told Reuters the organization had successfully recruited experts from companies like Google DeepMind and OpenAI.

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“While we do benchmark our salaries against those on offer in industry, the technical experts that are joining us from the top of their fields do so seeking more than a high salary,” he said. “They are joining to contribute to a critical mission to make sure these models are safe.”

Last month, a report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which advises governments on policy matters, called on the UK government to relax normal recruitment rules, loosen pay restrictions and roll out new work visas for tech talent.

Getting the depth of talent needed so that governments can not only ask the right questions, but also find solutions, will require a fundamental mindset shift in skills and culture,” said the institute’s Chief Policy Strategist Benedict Macon-Cooney.



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