ELLIS launches $220 million initiative to keep AI talent in Europe

Europe

The European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS) today announced the selection of 17 cities in 10 European countries and Israel where it’s establishing project that it hope grows into AI research institutes keen on societal impact.

Each selected site — in places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tel Aviv, and Zurich — will begin with about half a dozen AI researchers and sustained funding of at least €1.5 million a year for the next 5 years. The funding is meant to provide researchers with salaries that can compete with tech giants in an industry known for aggressively hiring top talent. Units begin operations in spring 2020.

“A step toward realizing this vision of having these institutes is creating these units which are a little bit like the seed. So that if the units are successful, the plan is that it will grow and it will eventually become an institute,” AI researcher and ELLIS board member Nuria Oliver told VentureBeat in an interview today at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) conference in Vancouver, Canada.

At NeurIPS In Montreal last year, top machine learning minds in Europe joined together to create ELLIS, a nonprofit they hope grows into a leading open science organization around the world.

Canada’s Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR) initiative to invest in the Canadian AI ecosystem inspired the creation of ELLIS.

At NeurIPS in Vancouver this year, ELLIS also signed a letter of intent with CIFAR’s program on Learning in Machines and Brains, which is co-directed by Turing Award winners and deep learning pioneers Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio. The organizations plan to take joint actions together, such as summer schools, workshops, and streamlining review processes for fellowship programs and exchange visits between Canada and Europe.

The goal of ELLIS is to attract and retain top European AI talent and increase the impact of AI research by European authors.

Concern about Europe falling behind the United States and China in AI development was part of the motivation for the creation of ELLIS, Oliver said. For example, Elsevier finds that Europe writes more AI research papers than any other region on Earth, but their work isn’t as heavily cited as that of researchers elsewhere in the world.

“The reality is that Europe is lagging behind China and U.S. in [research] impact,” Oliver said.

Aside from the need to keep salaries competitive with companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, ELLIS identified teaching load as a barrier for top scientists, who must teach each week instead of advancing their research career. ELLIS also fingered rigid European attitudes about enabling scientists to engage with industry or create their own company as another hindrance.

“Because we want both the scientific excellence and the societal impact, and a big way to get societal impact is through companies or through startups, another criteria is that the people in their units will have the flexibility to engage with industry or spin off their own company while still being an active researcher,” she said.

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