Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Regulators Need AI Expertise. They Can’t Afford It

ChatGPT caught regulators by surprise when it set off a new AI race. As companies have rushed to develop and release ever more powerful models, lawmakers and regulators around the world have sought to catch up and rein in development.

As governments spin up new AI programs, regulators around the world are urgently trying to hire AI experts. But some of the job ads are raising eyebrows and even chuckles among AI researchers and engineers for offering wages that, amid the current AI boom, look pitiful.

The European AI Office, which will be central to the implementation of the EU’s AI Act, listed vacancies early this month and wants applicants to begin work in the fall. They include openings for technology specialists in AI with a master’s degree in computer science or engineering and at least one year’s experience, at a seniority level that suggests an annual salary from €47,320 ($51,730).

Across La Manche, the UK government’s Department for Science, Innovation & Technology is also seeking AI experts. One open position is Head of the International AI Safety Report, who would help shepherd a landmark global report that stems from the UK’s global AI Safety Summit last year. The ad says “expertise in frontier AI safety and/or demonstrable experience of upskilling quickly in a complex new policy area” is essential. The salary offered is £64,660 ($82,730) a year.

Although the EU listing is net of tax, the salaries are far lower than the eye-watering sums being offered within the industry., which compiles verified tech industry compensation data, reports that the median total compensation for workers at OpenAI is $560,000, including stock grants, as is common in the tech industry. The lowest compensation it has verified at the ChatGPT maker, for a recruiter, is $190,000.

At OpenAI’s Amazon-backed rival Anthropic—creator of the Claude chatbot—the median compensation of $212,500 still far outstrips what regulators are currently offering. The lower 25th percentile for jobs in machine learning and AI is $172,500, according to Stock grants included in tech industry compensation packages can turn into huge windfalls if a company’s value increases. OpenAI is currently valued at $80 billion following a February 2024 share tender first reported by The New York Times.

“There’s a brain drain happening across every government across the world,” says Nolan Church, cofounder and CEO at FairComp, a company tracking salary data to help workers negotiate better pay. “Part of the reason why is that private companies not only have a better working environment, but also will offer significantly higher salaries.”

Church worries that competition between private companies will also widen the gap further between the private and public sector. “I personally believe the government should be attracting the best and the brightest,” he says, “but how can you convince the best and the brightest to take a massive pay cut?”

Outside the Ballpark

It’s not new for government jobs to pay significantly less than those in industry, but in the current AI boom the disconnect is potentially more significant and urgent. Tech companies and corporations in other industries rushing to embrace the technology are competing fiercely for AI-savvy talent. The rapid pace of developments in AI means regulators need to move fast.

Jack Clark, a cofounder of Anthropic, posted on X comparing the EU AI Office’s salary offer unfavorably to tech industry internships. “I appreciate governments are working within their own constraints, but if you want to carry out some ambitious regulation of the AI sector then you need to pay a decent wage,” he wrote. “You don’t need to be competitive with industry, but you definitely need to be in the ballpark.”

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