Exclusive: In an open letter, the scientists say the proposed Ellis institute is essential to avoid brain drain to big tech firms Leading scientists have drawn up plans for a vast multinational European institute devoted to world-class artificial intelligence (AI) research in a desperate bid to nurture and retain top talent in Europe. The new institute would be set up for similar reasons as Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, which was created after the second world war to rebuild European physics and reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best scientists to the US.

Named the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems, or Ellis, the proposed AI institute would have major centres in a handful of countries, the UK included, with each employing hundreds of computer engineers, mathematicians and other scientists with the express aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of AI research. In an open letter that urges governments to act, the scientists describe how Europe has not kept up with the US and China, where the vast majority of leading AI firms and universities are based.

The letter adds that while a few “research hotspots” still exist in Europe, “virtually all of the top people in those places are continuously being pursued for recruitment by US companies.” The extent of the hiring frenzy and the damaging impact it is having on British universities was revealed in a Guardian investigation last year. It found that PhD students had left their studies for six-figure salaries at US tech firms. Meanwhile, some universities had been hit so hard that they had lost an entire generation of talented young researchers.

The letter, signed by scientists in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Israel and the Netherlands, calls for work on the new institute to start this year. Under the proposal, participating countries would fund the institute as an intergovernmental organisation.

The same approach is used to fund the European Molecular Biology Lab, which has a major centre in Cambridge. Artificial Intelligence has various definitions, but in general it means a program that uses data to build a model of some aspect of the world. Read more from theguardian.com…

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