China’s tech firms chase overseas AI talent to build ChatGPT rivals, amid lack of experts at home
While it could be a tall order for firms to poach experts who already left China, the lack of a glass ceiling at home could be a major appeal.
China's tech firms are scrambling to woo Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) experts from abroad – especially those at OpenAI, the US start-up behind ChatGPT – to help create their own chatbots, according to industry insiders and recruitment agencies.
ChatGPT, which is capable of generating human-like responses to complex questions, has taken the world by storm since its launch in late November, spurring an arms race among global technology giants rushing to introduce their own versions.
With the supply of AI scientists falling short of rising demand in China, however, the frenzy around AI chatbots has exacerbated a talent gap in the country, recruiters said.
Both top and second-tier players in China’s technology industry are looking to hire AI experts with Chinese backgrounds from overseas, to integrate technologies similar to ChatGPT into their product offerings, with members from the original OpenAI team that launched the chatbot being the most sought-after, according to Liang Hongjing, partner at Shenzhen-based headhunting agency CGL Consulting.
“I’ve helped local research facilities and top internet firms recruit the research heads and chief scientists … Now I’m looking to (help Chinese tech firms) recruit those with experience in large language models,” Liang said, adding that his clients want to hire from abroad because it is difficult to find experts in the field on the mainland.
“Large language models are not a new concept in China, but there are just too few companies that have worked in that path,” Liang said.
The supply of AI talent in China has fluctuated in the past few years, according to Liu Jingfeng, a senior researcher at Beijing-based technology think tank Jazzyear.
In 2017, AI firms in China – including the four “AI dragons” of CloudWalk Technology, Yitu Technology, SenseTime and Megvii – drove a hiring boom, riding on enthusiasm surrounding the use of computer vision technology in industrial scenarios.
As the fervour around computer vision cooled, however, the AI sector saw a plunge in talent, as many workers left amid declining salaries, Liu said. But the sudden popularity of ChatGPT has reignited investment interest in the field.
Still, it could be a tall order for Chinese companies and recruitment agencies to poach Chinese experts who have already left home, according to CGL’s Liang.
“Returning to China will be a high-cost move for these people, who will have to leave their tenure, cars, houses, and even families behind,” he said, even though companies are willing to offer salary packages of between tens of thousands to several million yuan to attract the right talent.
Despite the drawbacks, some Chinese researchers who have been working in Western countries may find the lack of a glass ceiling at home a major appeal, according to Liang.
The amount of opportunities still available in China’s internet sector may also be a big draw, he added.
“The Chinese internet market, regardless of its issues, is still very fascinating,” Liang said. “The speed at which China’s tech sector and the economy have grown in the past decade has produced way more surprises than what the overseas market could have offered.”
This article was first published on SCMP.