Chinese AI Hosts Several Unexpected Strengths | China Unlocked

Translated by Gao Jing


How many artificial intelligence (AI) practitioners are there in the world? How many companies are recruiting AI talent? A recent report released by LinkedIn, a social networking site used by professionals to connect, showed that the total number of people working in the field of AI has reached 1.9 million globally and demand for AI manpower has increased eightfold over the past three years. Based on its vast pool of 500 million users and through the implementation of big data analytics, LinkedIn gave an in-depth account of the status quo, mobility and supply and demand relating to AI professionals all over the world.

Though AI only recently became a buzzword, the development of AI talent began more than a decade ago. Among those working in the industry around the world, 65.4 percent have more than 10 years of experience in AI. It is noteworthy that the number of Chinese AI professionals globally now totals 140,000. This group of people has huge potential to become a leading force in driving the development of China’s AI technology.


AI Talent in Great Demand


After comparing the professional careers of AI personnel in LinkedIn’s database, it became clear that a majority of AI practitioners have rich experience in this area despite the fact that the AI remains an emerging industry. At the global level, the US, boasting cutting-edge technologies, is home to 850,000 AI professionals, making it number one on the list. China takes fifth place with more than 50,000 people engaged in the AI industry. In terms of hands-on experience, 71.5 percent of US-based AI practitioners have worked in the field for more than 10 years, higher than the global average of 65.4 percent.

Despite the large pool of AI personnel, high-end talent remains in great demand as the industry is undergoing a period of rapid growth. Over the past three years, the number of AI recruitment positions posted on LinkedIn has soared from 50,000 to 440,000, an eight-fold increase. In terms of specific areas, the strongest demand for talent comes in the form of basic resource support, especially in areas such as algorithms, machine learning, GPU and AI chips. Compared with AI technology and application, basic resources support sees a more obvious talent gap.

The surge in demand for AI personnel has urged hi-tech companies to turn their eyes to top academic talent in universities. According to related data, however, research at Chinese universities and institutes maintained a net inflow of talent from 2013 to 2015. This indicates that while enterprises have made greater investment in headhunting, the universities themselves are facing a shortage of qualified personnel. Industry experts suggest that AI companies could launch cooperation with universities and research institutes in personnel training and research and development to improve resource complementation and the full use of available AI manpower.


Small in Number But Strong


The sheer number of China’s AI professionals falls short of that of the US, but China’s talent enjoys certain advantages in other aspects.

Since practitioners with 10 years of experience or more account for only 38.7 percent of total AI professionals in China, there is a huge gap between China and the US in terms of the number of senior AI personnel. However, at the same time, 62.1 percent of Chinese AI professionals have a master’s degree or higher, while in the US 56.5 percent do. This means that despite being relatively young and less experienced, AI practitioners in China have high academic qualifications and a strong ability to adapt, and their potential cannot be underestimated.

With regard to personnel distribution, AI talent in the two countries enjoy respective advantages in different industry segments. Over 70 percent of AI professionals in the US are engaged in basic resources support, while China has stronger manpower in AI technology and application, especially in robotics, image recognition, precision marketing, automated driving and other areas.


Headhunting for Overseas Chinese Talent


Nearly 70 percent of Chinese AI talent work in Beijing and Shanghai. However, in a wider scope, the 140,000 Chinese AI professionals globally account for 6.5 percent of AI personnel.

It is noteworthy that overseas Chinese are still challenged by frequently encountered glass ceilings in overseas companies. While 20.6 percent of American AI practitioners are in positions at the director level or higher, only 10.7 percent of overseas Chinese AI professionals have reached the same level. Industry experts believe that this partially explains why an increasing number of talented Chinese AI professionals in foreign countries have returned home in recent years. From 2013 to 2016, China saw an average growth rate of 14 percent with respect to the number of overseas Chinese AI talent returning home after graduation, as well as an average growth rate of 10 percent in terms of the number of experienced AI professionals returning to China from other countries. Among them, the US remains the largest source country of such returnees, accounting for more than 40 percent.

In fact, recruiting high-level talent to enhance core competitiveness has become a universal choice for Chinese companies in the AI industry. When companies like Baidu, Didi Chuxing, NetEase, Mobike and Midea carried out recruitment operations in the US last year, more than 500 Chinese technical elite professionals were attracted to conduct in-depth communication with executives at such firms. Most work with well-known enterprises in Silicon Valley.

“At present, headhunting is at the core of AI industry competition,” said Wang Di, vice president of technology at LinkedIn China. “There is a huge gap between China, the US and leading European countries in terms of AI manpower. However, China has become increasingly appealing to talent from all over the world, and we see an upsurge in internet technology innovation, abundant application scenarios and a large influx of capital. China is expected to be the strongest player in catching up with first-tier countries in the AI development race.”

Wang also believes that with competition for high-end talent growing increasingly intense, a greater amount of business cooperation between Chinese and foreign enterprises, in addition to personnel training programs co-sponsored by companies and universities, will be launched, aiming at increasing the number of talented people working in the AI industry.

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