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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new working paper finds that as high-level AI research began to require huge amounts of computing resources, large tech firms and elite universities increasingly dominated the field's most important conferences.

Why it matters: If only the most well-funded researchers are able to drive the direction of AI, the diversity of voices will narrow at the very moment when AI is poised to transform how we live and work.

By the numbers: Nur Ahmed and Muntasir Wahed, researchers at Western University and Virginia Tech, respectively, examined more than 170,000 papers presented at 57 prestigious computer science conferences since 2012.

  • They found that representatives from elite universities — those ranked 1-50 in the QS World University Rankings — crowded out researchers from mid-tier and lower-tier universities.
  • Researchers from large tech firms also increased their presence at the major computer science conferences, both by publishing their own papers and by partnering with academic researchers who themselves primarily came from elite universities.

How it works: Ahmed and Wahed chose 2012 as the starting point because that year a team from the University of Toronto achieved a major breakthrough using deep learning for visual recognition at the ImageNet challenge.

  • Deep learning, however, requires massive amounts of computing power and vast data sets, paving the way to AI's unequal playing field.

What they're saying: "We say we need more diversity in the field of AI, but what myself and my colleague found is that we're seeing less diversity over time," says Ahmed.

What's next: Some large tech firms have taken steps to expand access to AI research by partnering with historically Black colleges and universities.

  • A bolder idea comes from experts at Stanford University who have urged Washington to create a National Research Cloud that could provide a broader range of researchers access to high-end computing.

The bottom line: The ability to do high-end AI research should depend more on the quality of your ideas than the quantity of your CPUs.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Nov 19, 2020 - Technology

Survey: Executives are prioritizing AI skills

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Executives and senior managers say they will prioritize hiring candidates who have skills in automation and AI, according to a survey first shared with Axios.

Why it matters: Automation hasn't yet transformed the business world, in part because companies don't yet know how to harness these new technologies. If that's going to happen, they'll need workers who know how to use AI.

The next steps in Bank of America's $1 billion pledge to fight inequality

Photo: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Earlier this year, Bank of America committed to spending $1 billion over four years to address racial and income inequality in America, as a reckoning over systemic racism and police brutality took hold of the country. It said in September it would set aside $25 million of that initial sum for jobs initiatives in Black and Hispanic/Latino communities.

Driving the news: Now, we know the bank is giving $1 million to each of 21 colleges and universities with large populations of Black and Latino students: HBCU Morgan State University, St. Louis Community College and the University of Puerto Rico's Río Piedras campus — to name a few.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Key government agency says Biden transition can formally begin

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy. Photo: Alex Edelman/CNP/Getty Images

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday that she has determined the transition from the Trump administration can formally begin.

Why it matters: Murphy, a Trump appointee, had come under fire for delaying the so-called "ascertainment" and withholding the funds and information needed for the transition to begin while Trump's legal challenges played out.