Last year the annual artificial intelligence conference NeurIPS invited 230 researchers from Africa to attend a “Black in AI” workshop in Montreal. It was a great opportunity to bring some diversity to the field of AI. Sadly, however, the Canadian government denied visas for about a third of the Africans invited to the workshop. Many others were unable to attend because the Canadian government took too long to process their visas.
The Partnership on AI—a group founded by Amazon, Facebook, Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, Microsoft, and IBM—contends that these sorts of visa issues are a threat to the development of AI. Conferences are an important way for researchers to exchange ideas, and they happen all over the world.
“Over half of the participants at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in China were from other countries,” a recent report from the Partnership on AI says. Other conferences bring together researchers in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
To keep ideas moving across borders, the report argues that governments should create special classes of visa to enable “global freedom of movement” for AI experts. This would include not just short term visas for academic conferences, but faster and more generous visa processing for AI professionals looking to work in a country long-term. For example, Iranian AI expert Sara Sabour works for Google in Canada, after the US denied her a visa to study at the University of Washington.
It’s a big ask given the rise of populist leaders that want to curb immigration. The Trump administration, which already tightened the limits on the number of refugees allowed into the country, is considering deep cuts to the US refugee program that could all but destroy it. Seeking special treatment for AI experts, who can command salaries on par with professional athletes, might come off as tone-deaf while migrants from Central America are held in detention camps in the US and migrants from the Middle East and Africa drown in the Mediterranean Sea.
Partnership on AI director of policy Lisa Dyer acknowledges that many people have it worse than AI researchers.
“These recommendations are in no way intended to minimize or replace opportunities for those affected by the ongoing immigration discussions and government actions,” the paper says.
As the paper points out, there’s precedent for special visas for particular skills. France, the UK, Chile, and Mexico, for example, all have special visas for technology professionals. France also has one for academics. The US has a special visa for professional athletes, and the H-1B program offers visas for workers with certain skills.
Partnership on AI was founded in 2016 to study the ethics of AI and help make sure the technology is a boon, not a bane, to humanity. In addition to its corporate founders, the organization’s members include human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Glaad. Special AI visas in the US and other countries would obviously help the Partnership on AI’s member companies. But Dyer says that immigration processes that prioritized people with AI expertise would also help students, academic organizations, and smaller startups that don’t have the budget to hire lawyers to guide employees through the visa process.
In that sense, Dyer argues that breaking down immigration barriers for AI researchers will help diversify the AI talent pool and, ultimately, make AI better for everyone.
More Great WIRED Stories
Source: Should AI Researchers Get Special Access to Visas?
By Klint Finley
Techylawyer and its authors do not claim to have written this article, we acknowledge the works of the original author