The Global AI Talent Tracker 2.0

Since launching our talent tracker in 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) has taken the world by storm. Ostensible breakthroughs in large language models and machine learning methods, as well as staggering improvements in compute capabilities, have made the power and potential of AI demonstrably clear. 

While companies and institutions are racing to monetize the power of AI, the prospect of its full potential is also giving pause to governments around the world. Much uncertainty centers on how to balance AI’s power to solve a range of economic and social problems with curtailing the downsides of its potential.

But what’s certain is that a large chunk of the tech world’s capital and talent will be deployed toward bringing AI applications to the real world. If anything, the competition among countries in this arena will be fiercer than ever—and much of that competition will be over the indispensable input of an AI ecosystem: talent. 

Talent also happens to be one of the most clearly quantifiable inputs, which is why we are assessing the global balance and flow of top AI researchers and scientists. Now, after three years of a pandemic and amid geopolitical ructions, how has that balance of talent changed? 

To compare apples to apples, this 2023 update, like the previous version, uses the Neural Information Processing Systems conference (NeurIPS) as our sample. For its December 2022 conference, NeurIPS accepted a record-breaking 2,671 papers with an acceptance rate of 25.6%, compared with 1,428 papers and an acceptance rate of 21.6% in 2019. 

While the conference has expanded in numbers, it is still considered one of the most selective AI conferences on record, meaning that it is a good proxy for the top-tier (top ~20%) of AI research talent. Rather than examining a broader slice of AI talent, we choose to focus on the top-tier because we believe this cohort is the most likely to lead the way on research breakthroughs as well as on determining novel use cases in the commercial domain.

Explore below key takeaways and view insights on what has changed since 2019 (see detailed methodology).

What are the career paths of top-tier AI researchers?

See top AI talent’s movements from their studies to where they work today. Click on the country blocks to see the flows into and out of each block and hover over each country block to see the path’s share of the total.

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Undergraduate Graduate
Data sample of paper authors accepted at NeurIPS 2022. Country affiliations are based on the geographic location of the researchers, not their institution’s headquarters. For “Graduate School” column, all current and former graduate students are included. For “Post-Grad Work” column, only researchers who have completed their graduate studies are included. Creating this chart required excluding a small number of researchers for whom complete data was not available. Where there are differences in the percentages listed here from other statistics in the study, that exclusion is the reason.

Key Takeaways of 2023 Update

1. The United States remains the top destination for top-tier AI talent to work. Within US institutions, researchers of American and Chinese origin (based on undergraduate degrees) comprise 75% of the top-tier AI talent, up from 58% in 2019. Moreover, the United States remains far and away the leading destination for the world’s most elite AI talent (top ~2%) and remains home to 60% of top AI institutions.

2. Beyond the United States and China, the United Kingdom and South Korea, along with continental Europe, have slightly raised their game as destinations for top AI researchers to work. When it comes to AI researcher origin (based on undergraduate degrees), India and Canada have seen relative declines.

3. Meanwhile, China has expanded its domestic AI talent pool over the last few years to meet the demands of its own growing AI industry. Because China produces a sizable portion of the world’s top AI researchers—rising from 29% in 2019 to 47% in 2022—it is no surprise that more Chinese talent are working in domestic industry.

4. A similar dynamic appears to be taking place in India. While India remains a significant exporter of top-tier AI researchers, its ability to retain talent is growing. In 2019, nearly all Indian AI researchers (based on undergraduate degrees) opted to pursue opportunities abroad. But in 2022, one-fifth of Indian AI researchers ended up staying to work in India.

5. These developments in China and India seem to reflect a broader pattern over the last few years: top-tier AI researchers appear to exhibit less mobility overall. Just 42% of top-tier AI researchers in 2022 are foreign nationals currently working in a different country, down 13 percentage points from 2019—meaning more top-tier talent are staying put in their home countries.

Key Insights in Eight Charts

1. Leading countries where the most elite AI researchers work (top ~2%)

The “most elite AI researchers” are defined as authors of papers selected for Oral Presentations at NeurIPS, which represent the most prestigious class of papers. The Oral Presentations acceptance rate was 1.8% in 2022.

2. Leading countries of origin of the most elite AI researchers (top ~2%, based on undergraduate degrees)

3. Top 25 Institutions for Top-Tier AI Research

Rankings based on fractional count of authors. For a fuller explanation, see the detailed methodology.

4. Leading countries of origin of top-tier AI researchers (top ~20%) working in US institutions

5. Countries of origin of top-tier AI researchers (top ~20%, based on undergraduate degrees)

6. Leading countries where top-tier AI researchers (top ~20%) work

Country affiliation based on the headquarters of institutions in which the researchers currently work.

7. Portion of top-tier AI researchers (top ~20%) working abroad vs. staying home

8. After completing PhD in US, vast majority of non-American AI talent stay in US

More analyses coming soon...