The Privatization of AI Research(-ers): Causes and Potential Consequences – From university-industry interaction to public research brain-drain?

by   Roman Jurowetzki, et al.

The private sector is playing an increasingly important role in basic Artificial Intelligence (AI) R D. This phenomenon, which is reflected in the perception of a brain drain of researchers from academia to industry, is raising concerns about a privatisation of AI research which could constrain its societal benefits. We contribute to the evidence base by quantifying transition flows between industry and academia and studying its drivers and potential consequences. We find a growing net flow of researchers from academia to industry, particularly from elite institutions into technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook. Our survival regression analysis reveals that researchers working in the field of deep learning as well as those with higher average impact are more likely to transition into industry. A difference-in-differences analysis of the effect of switching into industry on a researcher's influence proxied by citations indicates that an initial increase in impact declines as researchers spend more time in industry. This points at a privatisation of AI knowledge compared to a counterfactual where those high-impact researchers had remained in academia. Our findings highlight the importance of strengthening the public AI research sphere in order to ensure that the future of this powerful technology is not dominated by private interests.


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