While governments and tech executives argue over the ability of artificial intelligence to spark global conflict, the humans who actually work on tech are busy waging a wage war.
The popularity of AI platforms like ChatGPT means that AI engineers in 2023 can command almost double the salary they received last year, according to employment council Adzuna.
And even as big, familiar tech names like Microsoft, Google and Amazon cut hundreds of thousands of jobs amid slowing demand and rising costs, hiring continues apace for people with degrees in machine learning and computer science.
Companies large and small are fighting tooth and nail to retain top AI talent, driving up wages even further as demand for skilled labor threatens to outstrip supply.
A London advert from Amazon is offering up to $260,000 (£211,000) for an applied scientist specializing in generative AI – the same technology that powers ChatGPT.
In San Francisco, Google advertises a Machine Learning Engineer position with a base salary of up to $263,000, plus bonuses, stock (equities) and benefits.
If you have the right combination of skills and work experience, it’s possible to get into a high-paying job in the United States and never have to worry about the price of bread again.
Josh Brenner, chief executive of employment consultancy firm Hired, said competition on both sides of the Atlantic is leading to “increased pay for these professionals” as companies race to recruit the best and brightest. brilliant talents.
“Despite the volatility in the tech industry, AI and machine learning engineers, including those specializing in natural language processing, are still in high demand and receive higher salaries on average than standard software engineers,” he said.
Economic conditions played a big role in this gold rush. Despite stubbornly high inflation, optimistic investors have pushed up the value of companies seen as having an edge in AI and its adjacent industries.
The S&P 500 stock price index gained almost a full percentage point in one day this week due to a positive update from Nvidia, which is returning computer circuits used to power AI.
The California-based company more than doubled its stock price to $380 this week, following surprisingly strong sales of its AI-optimized A100 and V100 chips. The ripple effect sent the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 index up 2.5%, according to Bloomberg figures.
The AI industry is having a golden moment thanks to the launch of a publicly available version of ChatGPT last year.
That, and the chatbot’s incredible capabilities, propelled the maker of the OpenAI platform to household name status – and opened tech workers’ eyes to the opportunity to work on AI.
The impact on wages is obvious. Last April, an AI engineer in the UK could earn an average salary of just £48,159, according to Adzuna; by April 2023 that average had nearly doubled to £82,860, while in March this year data scientists could command an average of around £70,000.
Meanwhile, machine learning engineers who were offered around £60,500 last July are tempted by salaries of £93,750 in the first three months of 2023, Adzuna has found.
The launch of ChatGPT sparked a rush in applications, sources say, causing upward pressure on salaries as recruiters battle to recruit the best candidates.
Hired’s Brenner adds, “Machine learning engineers in the UK earn an average salary of £92,000, around 9% more than the average salary for standard software engineers at £83,000.”
Daniel Pell, UK and Ireland Vice President of workforce management software company Workday, points to some analyst forecasts that the UK AI market will be worth hundreds of billions of pounds by 2033.
This kind of success can only be achieved if the industry grabs the best talent, adds Pell, but the best way for companies to achieve this isn’t necessarily to bring in the most qualified people from the outside.
“Shifting to a competency-based approach can help business leaders avoid the costly exercise of recruiting,” says Pell.
On the other side of the fence, however, small businesses are struggling to stay competitive against the deep pockets of Big Tech and other established industries.
Jan Wolter, chief executive of Applause, a company that tests and trains AI algorithms, says it’s hard to get the right people with the right mix of skills.
“This is still a nascent space and it is difficult to determine whether a candidate has the required experience in AI and [machine learning] modeling,” adds Wolter.
“Someone is more likely to have a data science background than a pure AI background, so you need to hire for skill sets rather than specific experience. So yes, recruiting is competitive but it’s also very selective.
This added AI pressure might not last forever. While coders and IT workers may fit comfortably into the top-earning 1pc in Britain, those at the opposite end of the scale may find themselves out of work instead.
BT said in mid-May it was cutting around 10,000 jobs to replace them with AI, part of a wider round of 55,000 layoffs. Industry sources suggest that whoever trains the AI software to take over from unemployed humans could be creating the means to their own professional downfall.
Economists say the effect of AI on jobs will be twofold: wages for some jobs will drop to zero, their jobs will be outsourced to machines, while wages for others will skyrocket as specialized skills increase. required to train AI will become scarce.
Connor Axiotes of the Adam Smith Institute says the ability of advanced AI to make its own decisions could mean that humans will be squeezed out of the job market altogether.
He says such developments “have the potential to make this technology exceptionally likely to replace cognitive and physical labor, as the comparative advantage of human labor in brain power becomes less apparent.”
As a result, humans will have little “comparative advantage” over AI “with which to earn an appropriate market wage” if advancements in technology continue at their current rate, Axiotes adds.
Lawmakers are beginning to wrestle with these ideas, even as high salaries and the promise of luxurious lifestyles continue to attract top talent to AI jobs.
Meanwhile, governments are busy rolling out the red carpet for AI pioneers in search of top talent. Last year, Britain opened a fast-track visa program aimed at helping employers bring the most skilled tech workers into the country.
The equivalent US H1-B visa program allows US employers to import up to 85,000 “highly skilled” workers a year – but companies that want to bring foreign AI workers to the US are in competition with other high-tech fields, such as engineering.
Caroline Dinenage, then minister for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said in 2021 that the government’s flagship route for Global Talent visas “will not have a cap on how many people can come to the UK “.
There are signs that the AI gold rush may be slowing down. Some recruiting industry sources who asked not to be named suggest that average AI salaries could decline as the likes of ChatGPT become more common in everyday life.
For now, a PhD in computer science or machine learning is unmistakably the path to great pay and an easy life, even if it comes at the expense of their colleagues’ roles.
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