Feb 2, 2024 - News

Austin's artificial intelligence boom

Animated illustration of a robot tightening and adjusting its necktie, followed by its teeth sparkling.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A generation after Austin deftly latched onto the computer chip boom, city and university leaders are aiming to make Central Texas key in the development of the new big thing — artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: Whether you think of AI as a scary evil or the new great machinery to ease our lives, it's suddenly remaking where we get our news, where we put our money, how we find love and pretty much everything else in our universe.

Driving the news: The University of Texas announced this week it's launching an artificial intelligence hub with a cluster of powerful computers.

  • The Center for Generative AI "will help us accelerate the process of scientific discovery and find new solutions to major engineering challenges that would otherwise take years of experimental work," UT computer science professor and Machine Learning Labor director Adam Klivans said in a statement.
  • Meanwhile, Apple last month informed 121 San Diego employees working on Siri and artificial intelligence features that it is closing their office and relocating their jobs to Austin.

At stake: Jobs and money, for whatever cities become part of the AI constellation.

Zoom out: A Brookings Institute report last year examining the geography of AI named Austin as one of the early adopter cities of artificial intelligence technology — and described how the emerging technology had become the subject of economic competition across the country.

  • "Austin is clearly in that tier of maybe 10 places that are the next ring out from the Bay Area, which is the unquestioned superstar center of all this," Mark Muro, lead author of the Brookings report, tells Axios.

By the numbers: 2023 saw 264 generative AI job postings in the greater Austin area, per a Brookings analysis of Lightcast data.

  • The Bay Area and Silicon Valley, by contrast, had nearly 3,000 such job postings last year.

Flashback: The recruitment of Computer Technology Corporation and Sematech in the 1980s led to Austin's "Silicon Hills" nickname, driving vast wealth to the college and Capitol town.

Zoom in: The city of Austin has employed artificial intelligence in its transportation, fire and police departments.

Meanwhile: Austin-based Tesla has made artificial intelligence a key component of its R&D as it rolls out self-driving and bi-pedal robots.

What they're saying: "What drew the company here early on is still the motivation," Stephen Gold, chief marketing officer at SparkCognition, which has been in operating since 2013, tells Axios.

  • "Access to talent — through the university and other sources — quality of life — all the things to do on weekends, the weather, housing — and ultimately, for us, access to like businesses, where we could collaborate, and draw on the learning of others."

The bottom line: UT has grandly described 2024 as "The Year of AI" as part of a multimillion-dollar initiative to draw AI talent to Austin.


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