Commercial AI research and deployments are on the rise, a new study highlights.
What’s new: The latest edition of the AI Index, an annual report from Stanford University, documents key trends in the field including the growing importance of private industry and the erosion of U.S. dominance in research.

What’s new: Researchers at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence compiled AI Index 2021 by analyzing academic research, investment reports, and other data sources. Some standout trends:

  • Private investment in AI grew last year by 9.3 percent despite the pandemic’s chilling effect on the global economy. Drug development saw the most explosive growth, reaping nearly $13.8 billion from investors compared to just under $2.5 billion in 2019. Autonomous vehicles came in second with $4.5 billion followed by educational applications with roughly $4.1 billion.
  • Sixty-five percent of newly minted PhDs in North America last year took jobs with private companies rather than academia or government, up from 44 percent in 2010. Universities were the top source of U.S. AI research, but corporations published roughly 19 percent of peer-reviewed research papers.
  • China has produced the highest volume of AI research for years, but in 2020 it also received the most academic citations. The U.S offered the most undergraduate and master’s programs. Nearly two-thirds of AI PhDs in the U.S. went to students from other countries.
  • U.S. legislation and congressional reports mentioned AI 486 times during the 2019-20 session, a threefold increase over the previous session, suggesting that lawmakers are taking a bigger role in determining the technology’s future.

Behind the news: AI is a rising tide, but it’s not yet lifting all boats. Women made up only 16 percent of tenure-track computer science faculty worldwide in 2019 and about 18 percent of AI and computer science PhDs awarded in North America over the last decade. Meanwhile, Hispanics and Blacks accounted for only 3.2 and 2.3 percent respectively of U.S. AI PhDs in 2019.

Why it matters: Private industry’s embrace of AI means more of the technology will be put to real-world use. The growth in corporate research could benefit the field as a whole, though it also highlights the urgent need for well defined standards in technology development, implementation, and auditing.

We’re thinking: The figures for women and minorities in AI are unconscionable. AI is creating tremendous wealth and will continue to do so.  But practices are evolving rapidly, and we have only a short time left to make sure this wealth is fairly shared across genders, ethnicities, and nations. We urge governments, companies, and citizens to act quickly to promote AI’s broad positive impact.

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