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Business

Companies maneuver to recruit top AI engineers

SILICON VALLEY -- As artificial intelligence is being applied more frequently to everyday applications, such as image recognition and high-fidelity sound, corporations here are stepping up the competition to hire specialists in the field. Facebook and Google lead the hiring pack, with Apple and Twitter gaining ground in their own recruiting campaigns.

At a speech in San Francisco, California, Andrew Ng demonstrates a new Baidu service that allows users to edit other people's facial features in pictures using an image overlay.

     Apple, which provides its Siri service for voice recognition and automatic response, is seeking AI engineers to work on a large-scale project already underway to improve its products so that they can better recommend information to users. The company is also considering partnerships with powerful AI ventures such as Skymind of the U.S.

Takeovers targeting personnel

The corporate takeover has become a popular method for acquiring engineers. In October, Apple acquired the British venture VocalIQ, which develops voice recognition and response services using AI. In June, Twitter took over U.S. venture Western Environmental Testing Laboratory (Wetlab), which assists in the application of AI technologies. Chief Technology Officer Nigel Duffy of leading U.S. venture Sentinent Technologies said the takeover proposals keep coming.

     Parts makers are also competing for human resources as they develop parts with AI incorporated in the software. Leading U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm, for instance, recently took over Euvision Technologies of the Netherlands because of its strength in image recognition. U.S. IT leader Cisco Systems, on the other hand, ramped up AI research and development for automotive services via a new partnership with Preferred Networks, a venture founded by former University of Tokyo researchers.

     Chinese IT leaders are heating up the competition as well. Tencent Holdings invested in Skymind in April, and search-engine leader Baidu last year recruited Andrew Ng of Stanford University, known for his joint research with Google.

     Among the Japanese, Toyota Motor announced in September that it will begin joint research for AI applications with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Panasonic and Fanuc, also in partnership with Preferred Networks, are working to expand the industrial applications of AI.

Chasing the money

The intense competition for engineers can sometimes slow technological development through the siphoning off of talent. Evernote of the U.S. suffered a setback after it lost a key engineer to Apple. Facebook began hiring in Europe, having opened a new research facility in Paris in June. Google is also aggressively acquiring highly skilled Europeans, as seen in the takeover of British venture DeepMind Technologies last year.

     The personnel most in demand in the AI field are the specialists in "deep learning." Deep Learning refers to a method of AI development that simulates the workings of the human brain, wherein a computer automatically sharpens its deductive ability, resulting in accelerating improvement of image and sound recognition. Professor Geoffrey Hinton from the University of Toronto, in Canada, coined the phrase in the mid-2000s. 

     U.S. job search site Indeed.com shows that these specialists in and around Silicon Valley earn over 40% more than the U.S. average. In publicly recruiting skilled engineers, a company needs to offer an annual salary of at least $200,000. That figure reportedly multiplies if the engineer is well-known.

     When it comes to technological advancement, the corporate race is on to acquire the best and brightest from around the world. 

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