Why it’s really smart to be an AI expert (Hint: $$$)

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While there is a vigorous ongoing debate about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) will have on jobs, there’s no disputing this: People with AI-related skills are so in demand that some are being paid seven figures.

In a tax filing this spring, AI research firm OpenAI (co-founded by Elon Musk) revealed that it paid its top researcher nearly $2 million in 2016. Another OpenAI researcher made more than $800,000 that year, despite not starting his job until March. And a third pulled down $425,000 after coming on board in June 2016. And OpenAI is a non-profit!

This is not to suggest that everyone who successfully completes an AI 101 course on Udemy can start browsing for yachts or jets on JamesEdition (“The World’s Largest Luxury Marketplace”). Those OpenAI employees — two of whom were recruited from Google and one of whom is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley — are among the leading minds in the AI/robotics field.

Still, as the New York Times recently reported, there’s a huge unmet need for AI expertise:

Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research — about double from a year ago.

“There is a mountain of demand and a trickle of supply,” said Chris Nicholson, the chief executive and founder of Skymind, a start-up working on A.I.

Given that thousands of enterprises today are starved for AI experts, those 22,000 are in an enviable situation. No wonder, then, that AI annual salaries routinely can exceed $300,000, according to MIT Technology Review.

OK, so maybe we’re talking about the far right side of the bell curve here. Let’s step back a bit and consider a study by Chinese tech company Tecent, which ballparked that there were roughly 300,000 “AI practitioners and researchers” globally in 2017, admittedly a lot more than 22,000. But Tecent also said the amount of jobs available for these AI workers numbers in the millions.

Given the huge impact AI is expected to have across the entire economy, there’s hardly an industry it won’t touch, which is great news for job seekers with AI skills who may lack industry-specific experience. Indeed, the New York Times said that people in the tech sector report that “A.I. specialists with little or no industry experience can make between $300,000 and $500,000 a year in salary and stock.”

Hmm. Maybe those Udemy courses can pay for themselves — and a yacht or two.

The AI opportunities await, people.

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