Telegraph: Is the UK facing an AI ‘brain drain’?

‘A third of leading Machine Learning and AI specialists who have left the UK’s top institutions are currently working at Silicon Valley tech firms’ says the paper – as British start-ups just can’t match the six-figure salaries on offer over the Pond

Posted 4 September 2018 by Gary Flood

Top research and postgraduate technical talent in key areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are being lured away to Silicon Valley jobs instead of building their careers here.

That’s the claim of a story earlier this week from The Daily Telegraph, which surveyed 150 students who had gained either a postgraduate-level degree or had held research positions at Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL and Oxford Brookes universities.

It found that a third of “leading Machine Learning and AI specialists” who have left the UK’s “top institutions” are currently working at Silicon Valley tech firms, while over 10% have moved to North American universities and a similar figure are currently working for other smaller US companies.

That means just one in seven have joined British AI and tech start-ups, it concludes – feeling what it sees as “growing anxiety over big technology’s ability to lure professors and graduates with higher salary offers”.

Examples it offers includes Cambridge information engineering professor Zoubin Ghahramani, now Chief Scientist at Uber, and Machine Learning expert professor Neil Lawrence, headhunted by Amazon to lead its efforts in that area.

Renato Salas-Moreno, whose own British start-up was bought by Facebook in 2014, said smaller business can struggle to attract talent when competing with US tech giants: “Big tech companies have hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for top talent and it’s difficult for start-ups to compete.”

This despite, the report points out, the government’s recent £1bn AI sector deal, in which it pledged to invest £17m to fund AI development in British universities in a bid to “seize the £232bn opportunity AI offers the UK economy by 2030”.

The Telegraph‘s full report, behind its ‘Premium’ paywall, is available here.