According to a report by Nikkei Asia, China is currently facing a severe shortage of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals just as generative AI projects are gaining momentum. Large tech companies, startups, financial firms, and other organizations are all on the lookout for top-notch AI talent. This demand surge is a result of the recent announcements made by various companies regarding their plans to develop generative AI. Moreover, Beijing has begun granting approvals for AI services to operate under new rules implemented on August 15.

Notably, Baidu, a leading search giant, made its Ernie Bot available to the public on August 31. The chatbot reportedly answered an astounding 33.42 million questions within its first 24 hours. On the same day, SenseTime, an AI developer, launched its SenseChat bot for public use. These chatbot releases have further fueled the demand for AI specialists, pushing up the number of job postings in the AI content generation category, including those for algorithm engineers, by 2.3 times compared to the previous year's first half, as per job search platform Liepin.

The average annual pay for these job postings exceeded RMB400,000 ($55,116), nearly doubling the average salary of RMB220,000 in the new energy vehicle field. The Chinese government had predicted this shortage of AI professionals even before the surge in generative AI projects. In 2020, the Ministry of Human Resources released a report stating that the shortfall was around 5 million AI workers at that time. The report highlighted that the supply of AI professionals can only meet 10% of the demand. Without increased efforts to train AI workers, the shortage is projected to escalate to over 10 million by 2025.

The shortage of AI workers is primarily driven by the widespread application of AI across various industries. An estimate by U.S. market intelligence firm IDC suggests that China is expected to invest $38.1 billion in AI by 2027, which is roughly triple the amount spent in 2022. Baidu's Chief Technology Officer, Wang Haifeng, stated earlier this year that there has been an AI talent shortfall of 5 million to 8 million in the past few years. However, through various cooperative efforts, the company has managed to train over 3 million AI professionals.

A report released by McKinsey & Co. in May predicts that China is on track to face a shortage of 4 million AI professionals by 2030. The U.S. consultancy arrived at this figure by anticipating a sixfold growth in demand for skilled AI professionals from 2022 to 6 million workers, while the supply only reaches 2 million by 2030, according to the Nikkei Asia report. Overall, the scarcity of AI talent poses a significant challenge for China's AI-driven ambitions in various domains.