Who's Winning the Race for AI Talent?

Many countries are increasingly rivaling, if not exceeding, the United States in attracting people with artificial intelligence skills.

The border to Canada, taken in downtown, Detroit, Michigan.

Globalization may be under attack in many parts of the world, but the competition for technological talent remains intense. The direction of the flow has changed, though, especially for some of the most-prized technologists in the world — people with artificial intelligence skills.

Five years ago, the United States was the undisputed leader in attracting AI talent, welcoming 275 people with those skills for every 10,000 it already had, according to LinkedIn data published by the World Bank. Several other high-income countries in Europe and Asia also recorded significant inflows, while China and India, whose universities churn out engineering graduates by the tens of thousands every year, were by far the largest source of talent.

Fast forward to 2019 and the pecking order has changed dramatically. AI migration to the US has declined in proportional terms since 2015, while several other countries — including Ireland, Singapore, and Germany — have leapfrogged ahead. The US is still a much bigger market with a dominant tech sector, and continues to attract skilled people in large absolute numbers, but the trend is potentially worrisome. Meanwhile China and India are sending proportionally fewer AI experts abroad, but given their massive populations, they are still the biggest suppliers of talent.

The shift in migration patterns can be seen most dramatically by looking at two North American neighbors. Canada’s net inward flow of AI talent has risen more than 40-fold in proportional terms since 2015, to 511 people for every 10,000 people in the country with AI skills, while comparable migration to the US has fallen by over a third.

Other countries are making gains, if not as dramatically as Canada. In Europe, Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria, France, and Finland were all losing people with AI skills five years ago, but they have managed to reverse the trend. Last year, Finland attracted more such people in proportional terms than the US did. Policymakers take note: It’s never too late to join the race for technology talent.