Facebook and other large corporations including Elon Musk’s OpenAI and Tesla are ramping up efforts in their exploration of artificial intelligence and what it’s truly capable of achieving.
Unfortunately, these pushes are draining the talent pools of major universities where breakthroughs in various areas of computer learning and robotics are already taking place. Researchers who remain worry about the future of their areas of research, with the loss of so many highly skilled academics.
Where Have All the Academics Gone?
Although universities and corporations have long held research relationships, tensions have really been amping up since 2015. That’s when Uber hired 40 researchers and technical engineers from Carnegie Mellon’s robotics lab as staff for a Pittsburgh-based self-driving car operation. But, of course, it didn’t stop there.
Recently JPMorgan Chase hired Carnegie Mellon’s head of machine learning technology, Manuela Veloso, to oversee its new artificial intelligence operation. Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Baidu are also picking the ripest fruits from the academic trees, causing salary offers to climb sky-high.
Take a recent headhunt for Facebook, Luke Zettlemoyer, a University of Washington professor. His specialty is in technology designed to understand and utilize natural human language patterns. Facebook’s interest in his skill, presumably to help neutralize malicious content, ultimately pushed them to offer him a yearly salary of about $640,000, according to reporting by The New York Times. He declined, instead accepting an offer at Microsoft’s Paul Allen’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
An Offer Academics Can Definitely Refuse
Although Zettlemoyer has probably had plenty of negative opinions about his choice to aid the Allen Institute instead of taking a hefty pay increase with Facebook, he made the choice that allowed him to continue to teach.
Facebook’s academics typically spend about 80 percent of their time working at the social media company and 20 percent with their university. This lop-sided arrangement has potential ramifications for both the political and research futures of the education institutes they call home.
Carnegie Mellon and the University of Washington are working together on a set of recommendations for commercial entities that are meant to allow a more equal share of the best of their best. The goal is to allow research to continue on both sides of the fence, with the university itself holding a neutral position that will allow it to continue to cooperate with many different businesses on projects that can literally change humanity for the better.