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AI Businesses The Almighty Buck

AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit (nytimes.com) 82

One of the poorest-kept secrets in Silicon Valley has been the huge salaries and bonuses that experts in artificial intelligence can command. Now, a little-noticed tax filing by a research lab called OpenAI has made some of those eye-popping figures public [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 -- even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google. A third big name in the field, the roboticist Pieter Abbeel, made $425,000, though he did not join until June 2016, after taking a leave from his job as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Those figures all include signing bonuses.

[...] Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. 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.

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AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit

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  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @10:01AM (#56470909) Homepage

    Since we all here are experts in this field, we can cash in. Right?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      “When you hire a star, you are not just hiring a star,” Mr. Nicholson of the start-up Skymind said. “You are hiring everyone they attract. And you are paying for all the publicity they will attract.”

      The irony here is that geeks have become the very thing they complained about years ago. We are a modern day jock. A geeky athlete commanding sports-level pay and compensation. Geeky "stadiums" built for us called R&D/Think-tanks, and Clouds galore.

    • by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @10:55AM (#56471241)

      I don't understand what I'm supposed to be outraged about. There are people who presumably have valuable skills. They are recruited with money. Am I supposed to dislike them for getting paid well? Is this part of the "let's hate the successful people" campaign that's so popular recently?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The hate usually had to do with the person's salary relative to the perception of contribution to society. An athlete contributes to society differently than an AI researcher. If the perception of contribution is low relative to the salary, that is typically where the outrage is.

    • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @11:12AM (#56471341) Journal

      Since we all here are experts in this field, we can cash in. Right?

      Time to update my résumé (resume) on Dice. Maybe I can get a job writing AI for Slashdot that understands Unicode!

  • A better summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @10:07AM (#56470941)

    Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology

    ...because there are not many hiring managers who understand the technology, so they throw money at it instead.

    • ...because there are not many hiring managers who understand the technology, so they throw money at it instead.

      These days, if a hiring manager asks you if you are an A.I. expert . . . all you need to say is:

      "I saw the movie!"

      A.I. is the new blockchain Midas Touch goldmine.

    • by m00sh ( 2538182 )

      Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology

      ...because there are not many hiring managers who understand the technology, so they throw money at it instead.

      Those AI researchers can start a company that will be bought out for millions within a year.

      They're actually losing money by working for a salary.

      • Those AI researchers can start a company that will be bought out for millions within a year.

        They're actually losing money by working for a salary.

        Just because you know something about A.I. does not automatically mean you know a practical application for it that is worth a ton of money.

    • A $1 million first year compensation package is not that unusual, typically including 'the signing bonus' and RSU's that vest over a four year period. In some financial institutions - in NYC for example - a $1 million ongoing compensation package that includes a bonus would be considered 'pretty standard' for a high demand skill.

      Just a $1 million base salary is definitely 'high' but given OpenAI is a non-profit research institution ( so no bonuses or equity ) it's doesn't seem like it's completely out there

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      "I love the smell of tech bubbles in the morning."

  • by Clarence Rutherford ( 5185079 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @10:07AM (#56470947)
    There will be 4 times as many AI "experts" next year and more than half of them will not be able to find their ass with both hands and AI. But the MBAs will hire them for key roles because AI is the new blockchain & everyone just must be doing it - whatever it is.
    • But the MBAs will hire them for key roles because AI is the new blockchain & everyone just must be doing it - whatever it is.

      You want to 3-D print the blockchain, and HTML it into a Bitcoin [dilbert.com]

      It would be funny, how sexy AI in general (and machine learning in particular) has become. Except for the fact that it's actually pretty sad. I've been in this area off and on for more than 30 years, and things really have not advanced all that much. The incredible advances in computing power mask the lack of progress in the "intelligence" and "learning" parts.

      • The incredible advances in computing power mask the lack of progress in the "intelligence" and "learning" parts.

        Does that matter? Even if the advance in results from machine learning can be fully attributed to the increase in computing power, that still means that for some businesses, "AI" has gone from an amusing field of study to a profession that is practical and relevant. Hence the increase in demand for machine learning experts.

        • by Junta ( 36770 )

          While that is true for some businesses, for many others it's like big data again. A capable technology, but still needs some vague hint of vision in terms of how it relates to a given business. I'd say most companies struggling to hire AI lack vision as to how it could relate, and hope that throwing some money at the buzzword will work instead.

          This is more a hype cycle than a technology cycle. This is going to be good for some companies that try something they didn't realize they had ideas on how to appl

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, the other side of that coin is that you don't need to be the lead of Google AI to do AI work, and a lot of what is branded AI is just rebranded classification and discrimination stats, along with deep learning.

      My reaction is that these salaries are way too high, and they have an overly limited idea of "qualified."

      It's just like these ads saying that someone who has been coding in C++, Java, and python for multiple diverse network systems for 30 years somehow isn't qualified for writing code in the lat

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Expect India to have a flood of AI researchers soon.
  • Non-profit organizations just don't have shareholders/owners who get paid. Employees can and do get whopping salaries. For example there's a good chance your local hospital is organized as a non-profit but the president/CEO takes home around 7 figures.

    • This is why I roll my eyes when you here someone state they are working at a non-profit organization as though it's a sacrifice.

    • It is probably a 'not for profit' which is a bit different [wikipedia.org].
      • It is probably a 'not for profit' which is a bit different.

        Well, whoever wrote that wiki is grinding a US tax code-centric axe while in general use these terms are equivalent for this article's discussion purposes.

  • I earn $50,000 a year in IT in Silicon Valley. Sometimes I get a Christmas bonus.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      I earn $50,000 a year in IT in Silicon Valley.

      You are too logical; you need to get a BS in BS. An MS is More of the Same. Then, Pile it higher and Deeper with a "PhD". Deep learning, dude.

    • Much as leftists and youngsters like to ignore opportunity costs when engaging in government interventions in the economy, they seem to have an excellent understanding of opportunity costs in their personal lives.

  • Peter Norvig (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @10:25AM (#56471053) Journal
    Peter Norvig is probably worth mentioning, since he is one of the biggest names in AI, one of the biggest names in programming, and almost certainly is making millions at Google. He's the kind of guy who could create Bitcoin in his spare time if he wanted to.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    AI has incredible promise. From being able to run a simulation to find out what the competition is likely to do, to being able to see when, how, and where the enemy will attack, it brings with it the promise to win wars, find criminals before they do their mis-deeds, weed out revolutionaries, and grant the owners of the AI immense money and power.

    AI is a genie, and there are many organizations and countries trying to rub it and pop the cork, as it has the promise to solve everything and anything.

    It is no w

    • simulation for the competition... now that's a zero sum game once it becomes common. AI 1 determines company B will load up their own copy of AI1, so it adapts to try and counter itself, but then it basically would go into infinite regression, as it's planning for a system that will match itself.
  • What, no "AI coding bootcamps" to drive salaries down?
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      What, no "AI coding bootcamps" to drive salaries down?

      Only because the AI's themselves are against this.

  • Non-profits frequently pay good salaries, for the very reason that any profits they make, they need to actually spend back on their organization.

    Of course, OpenAI is Musk and Altman's little hobby and probably considered "educational" rather than "charitable". Nevertheless, they need to pay competitive salaries if they want to hire good people, and these are two of the best names in AI right now.

  • Even at? (Score:4, Funny)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday April 20, 2018 @11:26AM (#56471411)

    At those kinds of wages for employees, pretty much ANY company is going to be non-profit!

  • I've met 3 programmers I know are worth a million a year. Some positions have a multiplier effect being 10% better than the next guy might be worth 10 million to a company. They are producing code that will run on hundreds of computers and potentially control billions in assets. It seems surprising that some good programmers are not making that same money as sports or movie stars. (OK - some in finance are making that money but I don't count that)
  • Being a nonprofit is a tax structure, and it by no means indicates "poor". Effectively all it means is "we spend every last penny", frequently on salaries and bonuses.

    Skills are skills, and you can make top dollar at a nonprofit if your skills are in high demand.

  • Work faster! I want to retire while self-duplicating robots serve me.

  • yeah, nonprofit, all it means is that all money is just spend on extra high salaries as the company is not allowed to make profit. We give a lot of money to non-profit organisations, but a lot of it is spend on increased salaries, and not on actual what it's meant for.
  • AI is the latest buzzword. Every little company out there is touting the latest AI advances, and will sell at whatever price they can get. Most of the technology called "AI" isn't even smart, it's just "proof of concept" code that doesn't come close to what anyone would call AI. Most shops don't even understand relational databases yet, let alone "business intelligence" or now..."AI." I call BS. And of course, those who like to use BS to sell their services, aren't shy about charging exorbitant rates for th

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