To reverse brain drain, China should be more flexible on dual citizenship

Interesting arguments but likely overstates the importance of dual citizenship as a factor in facilitating a return of former Chinese nationals to China, particularly given Chinese government general repression (not limited to Uyghurs and Hong Kong) and control (e.g., COVID lockdowns):

Citizenship has become a sensitive topic in China. Every so often, you’ll see lists in the Chinese media – of film stars who hold foreign passports, or billionaires who made money in China but now hold foreign passports. On the Chinese internet, some of these individuals get labelled as unpatriotic, or worse.

One of netizens’ latest targets is Harvard physics professor Xi Yin, a China-born prodigy who has been quoted as saying he has no plans to return to his native country at present. A US citizen now, Yin is also married to an American woman.

China does not allow dual citizenship. The line of reasoning seems to be that the authorities don’t want to create a group of people who enjoy too much privilege, or potentially allow criminals to evade punishment. Critics say it is a way of ensuring citizens’ loyalty or maintaining a monoculture.

But much of the rest of the world has moved on, with more countries embracing dual citizenship against the backdrop of globalisation. Back in the 1960s, only one-third of countries allowed dual citizenship. Today, 75 per cent do.

Perhaps China should follow suit. It would help reverse the brain drain from the country.

Around the time Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening up policy, students were sent abroad to study, in countries including the US, Canada and the UK. This trend did not always pay off. In 2007, China Daily reported that, between 1978 and 2006, 1.06 million Chinese went overseas for studies and more than 70 per cent chose not to return. At that time, China probably suffered the most severe brain drain in the world.

To tackle the problem, Beijing has increased investment in higher education, and research and development. It introduced programmes such as the Thousand Talents Planto lure back leading Chinese talent. Under the plan “sea turtles”, or returnees from overseas – in Chinese, the two terms are homonyms – may receive a one-time bonus of 1 million yuan (US$148,400). However, the programme has reportedly delivered mixed results. Not nearly enough sea turtles swim home.

As China grew rich, it became common practice among affluent families to send children abroad for further education. Between 2015 and 2019, 80 per cent of these students did return. Yet, China is still losing first-rate talent. In recent years, a reported 80 per cent of Chinese PhD students in the US have been reluctant to return.

Many developing countries in the world lose talent to the US, but China probably suffers more, especially in the realm of hi-tech. Those bright Chinese minds working at the cutting edge of American technology might also be hampering China’s own tech ambitions.

Indeed, China’s hope of dominating artificial intelligence may be threatened by the brain drain. According to a study conducted by MacroPolo, a think tank run by the Paulson Institute, Chinese researchers accounted for a quarter of the authors whose papers were accepted by a prestigious AI conference in 2019.

However, three-quarters of the Chinese authors were working outside China, and 85 per cent of those were working in the US, at tech giants such as Google or universities like UCLA.

Source: To reverse brain drain, China should be more flexible on dual citizenship

Tech group wants new visa for skilled workers to enter country without a job offer

Of note. Not clear why Canadian companies also cannot hire people to work remotely:

A group representing 150 of Canada’s fastest growing and most promising technology companies wants the federal government to pilot a new visa stream allowing high-skilled tech workers to enter the country without a job offer.

The visa proposed Thursday by the Council of Canadian Innovators would target in-demand professions like software developers and data scientists, allow recipients to work, switch jobs or employers and help them extend their stay and attain permanent residency without needing to switch into another visa category.

The idea is one of 13 the council included in a new report aimed at addressing the country’s critical shortage of skilled tech talent and helping startups compete against Silicon Valley giants and multinationals.

“There’s over 200,000 positions in the tech space that are not being filled in Canada,” said Benjamin Bergen, the council’s president.

“At the onset of COVID, borders basically collapsed and the problem that we were seeing in terms of lack of skilled workers in the country was only exacerbated by the fact that foreign firms can now come into Canada and hire people to work remotely, increasing the pressures … on the general labour market.”

On Tuesday, Facebook owner Meta announced it would hire 2,500 Canadians over the next five years with many working remotely.

They’re joined by Microsoft, DoorDash, Amazon, Google, Wayfair, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix, which revealed Canadian hiring plans during the pandemic, causing homegrown startups to fret about how they’ll compete with these companies’ big names and salaries.

“If you’re an Amazon or you’re Facebook or you’re Google, you’ve already set up in Canada…you’re able to bring in technology talent through some of the immigration streams that already exist…because they’re doing it at such a massive scale,” said Arif Khimani, the president and chief operating officer at MobSquad, a Calgary company helping businesses with recruitment and visas.

Many companies he works with are looking to hire a small number of people to work from Canada, and trying to figure out immigration rules, tax policies, payroll, benefits, office space, and remittances can be difficult for them.

Khimani feels they would be helped by more policies targeting immigration and giving workers better pathways to permanent residency, which the council’s report advocates for.

The council also wants to see programs better reflect emerging talent needs. Khimani notices the most in-demand job roles right now are full-stack and software engineers and developers, and jobs related to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Given how quick tech innovation changes, looking for a salesperson who has experience on X, Y or Z product, that happens to only reside in a specific jurisdiction often doesn’t apply for some of those programs, so we’re really pushing for an expanding (of current policies),” Bergen said.

Immigration changes could be accompanied by a “digital nomad strategy,” which the council envisions including clarity around taxes and length of stay for Canadians working remotely and internationally and foreigners who locate to Canada for part of the year.

The council also recommended the country target talent retention with a 12-month student loan repayment grace period for new graduates who work for Canadian firms and tax-advantaged loan repayment benefits for employers who make contributions towards their employees’ outstanding student debt.

Finally, the council wants to see talent generation prioritized. It asked the government to consider funding for Canadian businesses developing up-skilling or retraining programs and incentives to encourage post-secondary institutions to offer more experiential learning opportunities like longer co-op placements.

Source: Tech group wants new visa for skilled workers to enter country without a job offer

Why Silicon Valley’s Optimization Mindset Sets Us Up for Failure

Of interest. Depends on how one views optimization and what one considers to be the objectives. Engineers and programmers tend to have a relatively narrow focus and thus blind spots to social and public goods:

In 2013 a Silicon Valley software engineer decided that food is an inconvenience—a pain point in a busy life. Buying food, preparing it, and cleaning up afterwards struck him as an inefficient way to feed himself. And so was born the idea of Soylent, Rob Rhinehart’s meal replacement powder, described on its website as an International Complete Nutrition Platform. Soylent is the logical result of an engineer’s approach to the “problem” of feeding oneself with food: there must be a more optimal solution.

It’s not hard to sense the trouble with this crushingly instrumental approach to nutrition.

Soylent may optimize meeting one’s daily nutritional needs with minimal cost and time investment. But for most people, food is not just a delivery mechanism for one’s nutritional requirements. It brings gustatory pleasure. It provides for social connection. It sustains and transmits cultural identity. A world in which Soylent spells the end of food also spells the degradation of these values.

Maybe you don’t care about Soylent; it’s just another product in the marketplace that no one is required to buy. If tech workers want to economize on time spent grocery shopping or a busy person faces the choice between grabbing an unhealthy meal at a fast-food joint or bringing along some Soylent, why should anyone complain? In fact, it’s a welcome alternative for some people.

But the story of Soylent is powerful because it reveals the optimization mindset of the technologist. And problems arise when this mindset begins to dominate—when the technologies begin to scale and become universal and unavoidable.

That mindset is inculcated early in the training of technologists. When developing an algorithm, computer science courses often define the goal as providing an optimal solution to a computationally-specified problem. And when you look at the world through this mindset, it’s not just computational inefficiencies that annoy. Eventually, it becomes a defining orientation to life as well. As one of our colleagues at Stanford tells students, everything in life is an optimization problem.

The desire to optimize can favor some values over others. And the choice of which values to favor, and which to sacrifice, are made by the optimizers who then impose those values on the rest of us when their creations reach great scale. For example, consider that Facebook’s decisions about how content gets moderated or who loses their accounts are the rules of expression for more than three billion people on the platform; Google’s choices about what web pages to index determine what information most users of the internet get in response to searches. The small and anomalous group of human beings at these companies create, tweak, and optimize technology based on their notions of how it ought to be better. Their vision and their values about technology are remaking our individual lives and societies. As a result, the problems with the optimization mindset have become our problems, too.

A focus on optimization can lead technologists to believe that increasing efficiency is inherently a good thing. There’s something tempting about this view. Given a choice between doing something efficiently or inefficiently, who would choose the slower, more wasteful, more energy-intensive path?

Yet a moment’s reflection reveals other ways of approaching problems. We put speed bumps onto roads near schools to protect children; judges encourage juries to take ample time to deliberate before rendering a verdict; the media holds off on calling an election until all the polls have closed. It’s also obvious that the efficient pursuit of a malicious goal—such as deliberately harming or misinforming people—makes the world worse, not better. The quest to make something more efficient is not an inherently good thing. Everything depends on the goal.

Technologists with a single-minded focus on efficiency frequently take for granted that the goals they pursue are worth pursuing. But, in the context of Big Tech, that would have us believe that boosting screen time, increasing click-through rates on ads, promoting purchases of an algorithmically-recommended item, and profit-maximizing are the ultimate outcomes we care about.

The problem here is that goals such as connecting people, increasing human flourishing, or promoting freedom, equality, and democracy are not goals that are computationally tractable. Technologists are always on the lookout for quantifiable metrics. Measurable inputs to a model are their lifeblood, and the need to quantify produces a bias toward measuring things that are easy to quantify. But simple metrics can take us further away from the important goals we really care about, which may require multiple or more complicated metrics or, more fundamentally, may not lend themselves to straightforward quantification. This results in technologists frequently substituting what is measurable for what is meaningful. Or as the old saying goes, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

There is no shortage of examples of the “bad proxy” phenomenon, but perhaps one of the most illustrative is an episode in Facebook’s history. Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth revealed in an internal memo in 2016 how the company pursued growth in the number of people on the platform as the one and only relevant metric for their larger mission of giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. “The natural state of the world,” he wrote, “is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.” To accomplish their mission of connecting people, Facebook simplified the task to growing their ever-more connected userbase. As Bosworth noted: “The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.” But what happens when “connecting people” comes with potential violations of user privacy, greater circulation of hate speech and misinformation, or political polarization that tears at the fabric of our democracy?

The optimization mindset is also prone to the “success disaster.” The issue here is not that the technologist has failed in accomplishing something, but rather that their success in solving for one objective has wide-ranging consequences for other things we care about. The realm of worthy ends is vast, and when it comes to world-changing technologies that have implications for fairness, privacy, national security, justice, human autonomy, freedom of expression, and democracy, it’s fair to assume that values conflict in many circumstances. Solutions aren’t so clear cut and inevitably involve trade-offs among competing values. This is where the optimization mindset can fail us.

Think for example of the amazing technological advances in agriculture. Factory farming has dramatically increased agricultural productivity. Where it once took 55 days to raise a chicken before slaughter, it now takes 35, and an estimated 50 billion are killed every year–more than five million killed every hour of every day of the year. But the success of factory farming has generated terrible consequences for the environment (increases in methane gases that contribute to climate change), our individual health (greater meat consumption is correlated with heart disease), and public health (greater likelihood of transmission of viruses from animals to humans that could cause a pandemic).

Success disasters abound in Big Tech as well. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have succeeded in connecting billions of people in a social network, but now that they have created a digital civic square, they have to grapple with the conflict between freedom of expression and the reality of misinformation and hate speech.

The bottom line is that technology is an explicit amplifier. It requires us to be explicit about the values we want to promote and how we trade-off between them, because those values are encoded in some way into the objective functions that are optimized. And it is an amplifier because it can often allow for the execution of a policy far more efficiently than humans. For example, with current technology we could produce vehicles that automatically issue speeding tickets whenever the driver exceeded the speed limit—and could issue a warrant for the driver’s arrest after they had enough speeding tickets. Such a vehicle would provide extreme efficiency in upholding speed limits. However, this amplification of safety would infringe on the competing values of autonomy (to make our own choices about safe driving speeds and the urgency of a given trip) or privacy (not to have our driving constantly surveilled).

Several years ago, one of us received an invitation to a small dinner. Founders, venture capitalists, researchers at a secretive tech lab, and two professors assembled in the private dining room of a four-star hotel in Silicon Valley. The host—one of the most prominent names in technology—thanked everyone for coming and reminded us of the topic we’d been invited to discuss: “What if a new state were created to maximize science and tech progress powered by commercial models—what would that run like? Utopia? Dystopia?”

The conversation progressed, with enthusiasm around the table for the establishment of a small nation-state dedicated to optimizing the progress of science and technology. Rob raised his hand to speak. “I’m just wondering, would this state be a democracy? What’s the governance structure here?” The response was quick: “Democracy? No. To optimize for science, we need a beneficent technocrat in charge. Democracy is too slow, and it holds science back.”

Adapted from Chapter 1 of System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot published on September 7 by Harper Collins


How Canada is fighting the war on talent

Good analysis:

Some might look at Noubar Afeyan’s career as a frustrating example of a talented Canadian scientist who got away. The chairman and co-founder of Boston-based Moderna, one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine makers, was born in Lebanon, immigrated to Canada with his family in the 1970s and did his undergraduate studies at McGill University.

Then we lost him. Mr. Afeyan left to get his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, eventually becoming a star scientist and entrepreneur. He has founded several successful U.S. biotech startups and registered more than 100 patents.

The good news is that Canada’s technology landscape has dramatically changed in the past three-plus decades.

Yes, like Mr. Afeyan, many Canadians are still drawn south by the reputations of U.S. colleges and tech giants. But the evidence suggests Canada has largely reversed its brain drain. This country’s fast-growing technology sector is more than holding its own in the global race for talent, even after the deep economic shock of the pandemic, according to an analysis of employment data contained in a new report for the Innovation Economy Council.

Despite the terrible toll of the pandemic, Canada has become more competitive because there are more opportunities here than ever for people to learn, to build companies and to thrive. And that’s making the market for technology jobs remarkably resilient.

Indeed, there are nearly 100,000 more jobs now in so-called STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math – in this country than there were before the pandemic. There is still a gaping hole in Canada’s job market, but not for these people. For the most part, Canadian startups and technology companies absorbed the shock, moved to remote work and in some cases have expanded aggressively.

The resilience of tech employment in these uncertain times is a testament to the Canadian sector’s core strengths – an immigration system that welcomes talented foreigners, a growing crop of promising homegrown STEM graduates and a thriving ecosystem of companies.

It’s a tale of two economies, of course. While there was a net gain of 98,500 STEM jobs, Canada had 431,000 fewer non-STEM jobs in October than it had in February, in sectors such as retail, tourism and airlines.

And there is a cautionary note about the STEM jobs. The number of job postings for these workers is down roughly 50 per cent since February, according to an analysis of data from the Labour Market Information Council. This suggests that companies are still hiring, but perhaps not as enthusiastically as they were before the pandemic.

Another consequence of COVID-19 is that it has accelerated the shift to distributed work forces in the tech industry – teams of employees scattered across different cities and countries. Companies have learned that it’s no longer essential to bring people to them. They can just as easily go where the talent is.

Tech giants – including Google, Facebook and Amazon – have set up large Canadian research and development operations in recent years. A growing number of foreign startups are doing the same. They are moving here to tap our plentiful and affordable supply of programmers, engineers, artificial-intelligence experts and scientists.

Talent flows both ways. Thousands of Canadians continue to pursue careers and education in the U.S. despite four years of anti-immigration rhetoric by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump threatened to tighten H-1B visas, but it turns out Canadian STEM workers are still successfully applying for them – more Canadians were issued H-1Bs in 2019 than in 2018.

Still, that exodus is significantly smaller than the inflow of foreign students, workers and entrepreneurs. Most of our departing STEM workers go to the United States – IEC research shows that more than 10,000 Canadians went south in 2019 with H-1B visas and green cards. But Canada gained nearly 23,000 global STEM workers through permanent residency and temporary foreign worker visas that year.

These newcomers are more likely than Canadians born here to work and study in STEM disciplines. It’s proof that Canada is a place where talented foreigners want to live, work and start companies.

There is also some evidence that the combination of U.S. political strife and China’s democracy crackdown in Hong Kong may be drawing Canadian expats home. As many as 300,000 of the roughly three million Canadian passport holders living outside the country may have returned home since COVID-19 hit, many for good.

But without opportunity, none of that would happen.

Today, it’s tempting to imagine a different a different life story for Moderna’s Noubar Afeyan. Instead of leaving, he stays in Montreal and goes on to found a biotech company that develops a Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine that the rest of the world desperately wants. His company is worth more than $60-billion and employs thousands of Canadian scientists.

The resilience of Canada’s STEM work force through the pandemic suggests this kind of homegrown-hero story is not so far-fetched.

Canadians will always leave to find their way in the world. This week’s sale of highly touted Montreal startup Element AI to a California software company marked an unfortunate loss of both intellectual property and talent. Canada isn’t the world’s biggest pond and we’ll never retain all of our companies and people. But we’ve shown that we can win the war for talent.

The Trump presidency peddled its anti-immigration messaging, eroding the false narrative that the best and brightest were always welcome in America. Canada countered with policies and public-relations efforts aimed at attracting talent, such as the highly successful Global Talent Stream program and Communitech’s “We Want You” campaign. It has worked.

But the talent war isn’t over. The key is to continue to create – and promote – opportunities and incentives for the best and brightest here in Canada. If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that narratives matter. And Canada has a good story to tell.


The U.S. Has Embraced Immigrant Tech Entrepreneurs. Now It’s Europe’s Turn

Interesting that this article is silent on the impact of Trump administration policies with respect to H1-B visas and reducing the attractiveness of the USA for international students. Major oversight of blind spot notwithstanding his points on Europe:

The world is on the cusp of a counterattack on COVID thanks to several vaccines that are currently seeking regulatory approval and a swift rollout.For entrepreneurs and the tech industry, this is a moment when their value to society is demonstrated: business and technology is (along with medicine) leading us out of the pandemic.

But Germany’s Turkish community, and Europe’s minorities in general, are celebrating for a different reason. Turkish-Germans are an often marginalized group, similar to other minorities around the world. Like any community, they are proud of their success stories, such as Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, the husband-and-wife co-founders of BioNTech, the firm behind the first vaccine to report a successful phase three trial, based on cutting edge mRNA technology.

These highly visible success stories are relatively rare. Germany, just like much of Europe, has boardrooms that are almost uniformly white. This even includes the tech sector, which in the United States is one of the most open and meritocratic places in the world.

In my 20 years in tech, including in Silicon Valley, I have worked with founders with roots all over the world.

This shouldn’t be surprising: many of America’s biggest tech success stories are those of immigrant backgrounds. Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Moscow. Tesla’s Elon Musk is South African. Steve Jobs’s biological father is from Syria, and Jeff Bezos’s stepfather, Mike Bezos, is Cuban-American.

In the past, things have been very different on the other side of the Atlantic, where the only possible equivalent would have been Paris-born eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who moved to the United States as a child, along with his Iranian-born parents.

Arguably it is Silicon Valley’s open attitude to investment and entrepreneurship that makes these American successes possible. Despite there still being no European Silicon Valley, I’m amazed at the level of innovation I’m seeing from start-ups across the continent, including places like Spain and France which are not always thought of as tech hubs. Many of those founders are from minorities, which are a natural fit for techpreneurship.

The huge expansion of tech jobs and tech-based entrepreneurship in the U.S. over the last two decades has created exponential demand for technical skills. Those are the types of skills that many immigrant kids are nudged towards, thanks to parents from developing nations who often see the value of science rather than, say, liberal arts.

A similar expansion is underway in Europe, despite a large portion of the continent’s industries still being traditional. To continue with the German example, only one of the country’s fivelargest companies, Siemens, is tech-related; its culture is very different from the “move fast and break things” attitude of Silicon Valley, with the firm being founded in 1847 (32 years before Edison filed a patent for his light bulb).

It is only in new, innovative industries that the immigrant work ethic and appetite for risk can come into their own.

To create more BioNTechs, European firms have to be ready to make way for the new wave of start-ups—whoever their founders are—without being suffocated by legacy businesses that are centuries-old and may be set in their ways.

At a more basic level, the relationship between host communities around the world and those of immigrant background needs to change. Most societies are very good at tolerating immigrants as much-needed Uber drivers and restaurant servers, less so at supporting them to develop their skills—and their children’s—to equip them for the top.

This isn’t sustainable, because each generation has grander designs than the one before. My parents moved to America in 1971, and as a second-generation immigrant my goals in life are even broader and more assertive than theirs. I have started a business, for example, when they didn’t. Just as I was given the opportunity to think bigger than my parents, my children are even more ambitious than I am.

Europe needs to move from a tactical, transactional mindset with migration towards a strategic, vision-based one. It should be more positive and aspirational: “We want to be the best, and we need to attract the world’s dreamers, innovators and disruptors if we are going to achieve that.”

As an American, I sometimes feel that Europe is stuck in the past. As a young country, America is not as set in its ways as many European nations. The U.S. still seems to act like a teenager: excited about the opportunities of the future, and perhaps sometimes being naive and getting itself into tricky situations (like a disputed election result).

Europe, on the other hand, acts more like a retiree. It prizes stability above all else—and many of its businesses are the same. Sometimes the price of stability has meant sacrificing innovation and opportunity.

The European Union is trying to create a similarly strong narrative to the American Dream to drive it forward. The post-Brexit United Kingdom is attempting the same with the image of “Global Britain.”

Whether they succeed will be demonstrated in the names and faces that shape their economies in the 21st century, and how similar they are to those that dominated the 20th.

Source: The U.S. Has Embraced Immigrant Tech Entrepreneurs. Now It’s Europe’s Turn

The Importance Of Immigrants For The Future Of Tech

As noted frequently and likely that the incoming Biden administration will reverse many of the counter-productive Trump administration policies:

The importance of migrants was underlined during the Covid-19 crisis when it was revealed that the founders of both BioNTech and Moderna, two of the companies at the forefront of the development of a vaccine against the virus, are immigrants to the United States and Germany respectively.

This should perhaps come as no surprise. After all, I wrote recentlyabout the importance of immigrants for jobs, after new researchfrom Kellogg School of Management showed that immigrants actually create a huge number of jobs by virtue of their entrepreneurial abilities.

Wharton research further elaborates on this point by pointing out that immigrant founders not only create jobs, but also bring considerable finance with them. The authors state that cross-border VC investment is now at record levels, with this in large part due to the increasingly international nature of entrepreneurship.

Driving AI

It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that recent research from MIT’ CSAIL lab has shown that while American continues to lead the way in the development of artificial intelligence, much of the actual breakthroughs are driven by foreign-born scientists.

The researchers assessed improvements made to the key sections of AI over the past 70 years, and found that around two-thirds of the gains in that time were delivered by researchers at North American universities. What is important, however, is that in the last 30 years, over 75% of these breakthroughs have come from foreign-born scientists.

“If we want the United States to continue to be ground zero for computer science, we need to make sure that our policies make it easy to continue to bring host international researchers to join our institutions,” the researchers say.

A broken pipeline

Research from Cornell suggests, however, that this is a pipeline that is increasingly dysfunctional. The paper highlights how despite many foreign-born Ph.D. graduates applying for jobs at tech startups, and indeed receiving offers to work for them, a large number of them fail to actually take up those jobs due to visa issues.

Instead, those people were much more likely to work at larger tech companies who have the resources and expertise to help them navigate the Kafka like H-1B and permanent residency process.

It’s a situation that has also been chronicled by researchers from Georgetown University, who found that restrictive immigration policies are hampering the ability of American firms to recruit and retain the kind of AI talent they need.

“Historically, immigrants have helped America lead the world in technological innovation,” the authors say. “Artificial intelligence is no exception. Foreign-born talent fuels the U.S. AI sector at every level, from student researchers in academic labs to foreign and naturalized workers in leading companies.”

The study reveals that foreign-born talent plugs a crucial hole in the AI talent marketplace, with the hole likely to persist and even grow in the coming years. A laborious and out-of-date immigration policy is thus hindering the competitiveness of American AI firms because they cannot recruit or retain the talent they need to thrive.

Fragile ground

This could have profound implications for the hegemony of Western nations in the development of AI. The MIT researchers highlight that while residents of Europe and North America making up just 15% of the global population, they’ve contributed over 75% of the breakthroughs in AI.

The free movement of people has been crucial to that, as people with considerable natural talent have been able to move to countries where that talent not only has the opportunity to flourish, but the peer group to help support their work.

This was emphasized clearly by research from McKinsey a few years ago, which highlighted that 35% of the 247 million or so people who live outside their country of birth are highly skilled migrants with at least a tertiary education. What’s more, these migrants are typically significantly more qualified than the native population.

What’s more, research from the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy goes further still and directly measures the impact of migrants on innovation. It shows that bringing in talent from abroad not only helps with the birth of new products and phasing out of older ones, but also has an impact on corporate profits and consumer wellbeing.

“We found companies with higher rates of H-1B workers increased product reallocation–the ability for companies to create new products and replace outdated ones, which in turn, grows revenue,” the authors say. “This discourse could have far reaching implications for U.S. policy, the profitability of firms, the welfare of workers, and the potential for innovation in the economy as a whole.”

Brain drain

The findings come at a time when countries such as the United Kingdom and United States have been gripped by populist politicians who have risen to power in large part due to opposition to immigration. Recent research from Vienna University of Economics and Business highlights how the “hostile environment” created in the U.K. has been driving foreign-born scientists from their shores, with a particular exodus occurring since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

A similar picture was painted of the U.S. by research from Ohio State University, which revealed that a growing number of Chinese researchers are leaving the country and taking their ideas and intellect with them.

The study found that around 16,000 researchers have returned to China from overseas in the last few years, with 4,500 leaving the United States alone. That’s roughly twice the number who were leaving per year in 2010. It’s a trend that is helping to turn China into a true scientific powerhouse.

The West has undoubtedly been a driving force in the development of AI over the past 70 years, but if restrictive immigration policies continue to dominate, it is highly likely that other regions will drive the next generation of AI.

Source: The Importance Of Immigrants For The Future Of Tech

Immigration Policy and the Global Competition for AI Talent

Some really interesting cross-country comparisons, highlighting the gap between the current US approach and other countries:

This paper analyzes policies relevant to four categories of immigrants: students in AI-related fields of study, workers in AI-related industries, distinguished AI workers (that is, individuals internationally renowned for their achievements in AI), and AI entrepreneurs. These groups represent the range of backgrounds and experience levels that nations need to compete in AI. We explore trends that, taken together, may be making the U.S. immigration system less attractive to these groups relative to other countries’ systems:

  • Within the last five years, the UK, Canada, France, and Australia have adopted major immigration reforms to attract talent in AI and other technical fields. The United States has not.
  • Despite growing job opportunities, recent graduates and others may be restrained from contributing to the U.S. AI workforce to their full potential—partly due to current caps, backlogs, and sponsorship processes at the expense of the employer for temporary work visas and permanent residency. In contrast, Canada’s new immigration policies quickly bring in skilled migrants and integrate graduates into the workforce. The UK is proposing similar changes to ease and expedite the immigration process for technically skilled migrants.
  • The United States’ per-country quotas on permanent residency—which remain unchanged for decades—have created a significant bottleneck, especially for Indian nationals who make up the 25 percent of Silicon Valley’s technical workforce. The other countries in this analysis forego quotas on permanent residency status and allow immigrants who meet permanent residency requirements to apply.
  • Although data is scarce and important trends are in nascent stages, empirical indicators suggest that some new AI-focused immigration policies in other countries are successful.
  • The United States has long attracted immigrant entrepreneurs with its innovative culture, but does not offer an entrepreneur visa. Entrepreneur visas offered by other countries in this analysis have largely failed due to unrealistic and vague metrics for business success or long processing times. The United States could learn from the mistakes of competitor countries and design its own visa to increase its immigrant entrepreneur population and create jobs for Americans.

The United States historically and presently benefits from a strong baseline of technological innovation through existing institutions. Immigration trends alone are unlikely to eliminate the U.S. advantage in the near term. However, the global landscape is shifting, and restrictive immigration policies threaten to undermine U.S. AI progress in the long term. To ensure America remains competitive for AI talent in the coming years, U.S. policymakers should consider reforms to current immigration statutes, regulations, and agency guidance. Other countries’ immigration reforms suggest three main lessons:

  • Improve temporary visa options for skilled workers. The structure of the H-1B temporary work visa prevents AI talent from contributing to the United States to their full potential. In particular, workers seeking permanent residency while on H-1B status—a process that could take years or decades—would need another sponsorship if they wished to switch positions or employers. Further, the H-1B lottery occurs only once a year, forcing employers to wait until the annual draw on April 1 to learn whether critical employees have been selected. In contrast, Canada has no cap on the number of work permits that can be provided year-round and issues these permits in as little as two weeks.

  • Expand opportunities for permanent residency. Allocating permanent residency status based on decades-old caps and immigrants’ countries of origin, rather than the skills they bring to the United States, has created a bottleneck for highly skilled AI workers who wish to contribute to the U.S. AI workforce in the long term. Specifically, the employment-based green card wait time for Indian nationals, who make up 25 percent of Silicon Valley’s technical work force, is 89 years. There are no formal caps or quotas on permanent residency in the UK, France, Australia, and Canada. Instead, immigrants are eligible to apply once they have lived or worked in the country for a set number of years.

  • Expand opportunities for entrepreneurs. While each of the other four countries in this analysis offers some form of an entrepreneur visa, initial results suggest they have been relatively unsuccessful. The United States should strengthen AI innovation by adopting an entrepreneur visa informed by the flaws of competitor nations to better attract and retain AI entrepreneurs.

Donald: Give us your wired masses, yearning to breathe free

Intriguing idea of Scott Gilmore (have seen similar suggestions from India and Europe):

Two historic developments have aligned to create a momentary and monumental opportunity for Canada.

First, we are weathering a global pandemic that has dramatically changed the way the world works. Suddenly, we are all discovering that the technology exists to allow many of us to work remotely, and to continue to be effective doing so. In fact, experts are predicting a sizeable portion of the workforce will choose not to return to the office when this is over.

At the same time, a tide of nationalism has risen in many western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. There, governments are making it increasingly difficult for immigrants to arrive or to stay.

For example, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that cancels the H-1B visa category, which permits highly skilled workers, who have already been offered a job by an American company, to live and work in the United States. American economists and CEOs are horrified at the decision. Without these well-trained immigrants, Silicon Valley would still be pastureland.

And here is Canada’s golden opportunity: we should immediately offer residency to all 85,000 holders of H-1B visas, permitting them to live in Canada while they work remotely for their current employers in the United States.

The benefits to Canada are numerous and obvious. To begin with, this would not take any existing jobs from Canadians. There are legitimate (albeit mostly misplaced) concerns that our current unemployment crisis would be exacerbated by increased immigration. Holders of this visa would be permitted to remain only if they have a full-time job in the United States (or another foreign country) that can be performed remotely.

It would give Canada an instant boost in revenue. These new arrivals might be working in the U.S., but they’d be paying their taxes and spending their paycheques here. Our services industry is in desperate need of a boost, and with international travel facing a long recovery, relying on foreign tourism will not be enough. We can replace that by effectively transplanting billions in household spending that is currently rooted south of the border.

This new visa class would be a tremendous boost to our pool of creative and productive talent. Canada has traditionally been a runner up when it comes to attracting the world’s best and brightest. This has gradually been changing, but this new visa could accelerate the shift. We would inject some of the world’s brightest minds into our cities, and if the visa provided a pathway for citizenship, we could hold on to that talent and all the benefits it would bring.

As many public policy experts, demographers, economists and others have pointed out, we need more Canadians. We have an ageing population that will produce relatively less tax revenue to support a growing number of elderly people. And if we want to achieve our full potential, we need a critical mass of talented citizens to do so. This is an argument that has been best made by Globe and Mail writer Doug Saunders in his recent book ‘Maximum Canada’. This visa class is one of the easiest paths towards that goal. The U.S. government has basically pre-screened all these immigrants, vetted them for security and health issues, confirmed they are employable, and socialized them to living in a western democracy. We should be paying Washington for the privilege of taking these people off their hands.

This visa would be an obvious blessing for the would-be immigrants. Unwelcome in the U.S. and facing unemployment, they will be greeted warmly here and allowed to continue to do their work and even remain in the same time zone. What’s more, they will benefit from Canada’s high quality of life, and excellent (but improvable) health-care system.

They will also discover that the American Dream has moved north. Compared to the United States, Canada now has higher rates of employment, education and homeownership. We even have longer lives and more vacation days. And while working from home is not ideal, all of our major cities now have ample shared workspace facilities.

This visa is even good for American employers. First and foremost, they get to keep their talent. And, they would no longer have to pay extravagant health insurance costs. Even Donald Trump would welcome this move. In his mind, out of sight is out of mind and these would be just one less class of immigrants to worry about.

We could call this an IWFC: an International Work From Canada visa and offer it to more than just H-1B candidates. If someone has a high paying job in Paris that they can do on their laptop from Montreal, why wouldn’t we want them to do so? It is a new world, and we need to look at it from a new angle. As the global workforce shifts to tele-commuting, the idea of living in Whistler while managing a marketing team in San Jose is not only possible, it is logical.

If Canada were to seize this opportunity, we would have to do it fast. Other countries are likely considering something similar. Who wouldn’t? And, the American election is just months away. The political landscape could shift, and this incredible pool of talent might be allowed to remain in the U.S. Let’s act before then, let’s bring them home to Canada, before someone else puts out their own welcome mat first.

Source: Donald: Give us your wired masses, yearning to breathe free

As Donald Trump tightens immigration rules, Indian tech students ditch the American Dream for Canada

Yet another article of the shift with some interesting data:

Indian students are slowly getting over their fascination with the US.

The number of Indians enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering courses at American universities declined by more than 25% between 2016-’17 and 2018-’19, according to an analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy.

The key factors for this decline are “more restrictive immigrationand international student policies under the [Donald] Trump administration and the difficulty of obtaining green cards in the United States,” the think tank focused on public policy research on trade and immigration said in a report published on June 8.

Data: National Foundation for American Policy, US Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, special tabulations (2018) of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database via Quartz

This decline is a massive hit to the entire international tech student population in the US, as Indians form an outsized proportion of the group.

Data: National Foundation for American Policy, US Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, special tabulations (2018) of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database via Quartz

America’s loss

In a letter dated June 2, 21 members of the US Congress highlighted that international students and their families contributed approximately $41 billion to the US economy in 2018-’19 alone, despite making up just 5.5% of overall US college enrollments. This cohort subsidises tuition for many domestic students.

Moreover, “as a source of research assistants, graduate students help professors conduct research and retain top faculty,” the National Foundation for American Policy report said. “Without the ability to perform high-level research, many leading professors would move on to other careers, which would weaken American universities as a global centre for science.”

While the US is losing out on Indian talent, its neighbour is making strides.

Canada’s gain

National Foundation for American Policy’s research shows that the share of Indian students in Canada more than doubled between the academic years 2016-’17 and 2018-’19.

Data: Canadian Bureau for International Education, National Foundation for American Policy via Quartz

Unlike America’s hardline approach, Canada’s policies have been incentivising students. In June 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced the Student Direct Stream for China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Students from these four countries enrolled in any of the 1,400-plus designated learning institutes in Canada can fast-track their applications, as long as they pass English-language tests and prove they are financially stable.

While the US has suspended immigration due to coronavirus outbreak and is reconsidering the post-graduate work programme Optional Practical Training, Canada isn’t letting Covid-19 get in its way.

As of May 14, international students with valid study permits in Canada from before March 18 have been exempted from the travel restrictions contingent on passing health checks and following isolation protocols.

Not just students but even Indian working professionals have been flocking to Canada as Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric builds up. Several Indian techies have been swapping Silicon Valley for the more immigrant-friendly neighbour.

“Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from US destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to US permanent residence,” said Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP. The country even offers express entry for skilled immigrants.

Moreover, Canada allows permanent residents to apply for citizenship after six years. Indian permanent residents admitted into the country jumped up over 117% between fiscal years 2016 and 2019, National Foundation for American Policy found.

Source: As Donald Trump tightens immigration rules, Indian tech students ditch the American Dream for Canada

Of course technology perpetuates racism. It was designed that way.

Interesting observations of how technology embeds biases and prejudices and the related risks:

Today the United States crumbles under the weight of two pandemics: coronavirus and police brutality.

Both wreak physical and psychological violence. Both disproportionately kill and debilitate black and brown people. And both are animated by technology that we design, repurpose, and deploy—whether it’s contact tracing, facial recognition, or social media.

We often call on technology to help solve problems. But when society defines, frames, and represents people of color as “the problem,” those solutions often do more harm than good. We’ve designed facial recognition technologies that target criminal suspects on the basis of skin color. We’ve trained automated risk profiling systems that disproportionately identify Latinx people as illegal immigrants. We’ve devised credit scoring algorithms that disproportionately identify black people as risks and prevent them from buying homes, getting loans, or finding jobs.

So the question we have to confront is whether we will continue to design and deploy tools that serve the interests of racism and white supremacy,

Of course, it’s not a new question at all.

Uncivil rights

In 1960, Democratic Party leaders confronted their own problem: How could their presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, shore up waning support from black people and other racial minorities?

An enterprising political scientist at MIT, Ithiel de Sola Pool, approached them with a solution. He would gather voter data from earlier presidential elections, feed it into a new digital processing machine, develop an algorithm to model voting behavior, predict what policy positions would lead to the most favorable results, and then advise the Kennedy campaign to act accordingly. Pool started a new company, the Simulmatics Corporation, and executed his plan. He succeeded, Kennedy was elected, and the results showcased the power of this new method of predictive modeling.

Racial tension escalated throughout the 1960s. Then came the long, hot summer of 1967. Cities across the nation burned, from Birmingham, Alabama, to Rochester, New York, to Minneapolis Minnesota, and many more in between. Black Americans protested the oppression and discrimination they faced at the hands of America’s criminal justice system. But President Johnson called it “civil disorder,” and formed the Kerner Commission to understand the causes of “ghetto riots.” The commission called on Simulmatics.

As part of a DARPA project aimed at turning the tide of the Vietnam War, Pool’s company had been hard at work preparing a massive propaganda and psychological campaign against the Vietcong. President Johnson was eager to deploy Simulmatics’s behavioral influence technology to quell the nation’s domestic threat, not just its foreign enemies. Under the guise of what they called a “media study,” Simulmatics built a team for what amounted to a large-scale surveillance campaign in the “riot-affected areas” that captured the nation’s attention that summer of 1967.

Three-member teams went into areas where riots had taken place that summer. They identified and interviewed strategically important black people. They followed up to identify and interview other black residents, in every venue from barbershops to churches. They asked residents what they thought about the news media’s coverage of the “riots.” But they collected data on so much more, too: how people moved in and around the city during the unrest, who they talked to before and during, and how they prepared for the aftermath. They collected data on toll booth usage, gas station sales, and bus routes. They gained entry to these communities under the pretense of trying to understand how news media supposedly inflamed “riots.” But Johnson and the nation’s political leaders were trying to solve a problem. They aimed to use the information that Simulmatics collected to trace information flow during protests to identify influencers and decapitate the protests’ leadership.

They didn’t accomplish this directly. They did not murder people, put people in jail, or secretly “disappear” them.

But by the end of the 1960s, this kind of information had helped create what came to be known as “criminal justice information systems.” They proliferated through the decades, laying the foundation for racial profiling, predictive policing, and racially targeted surveillance. They left behind a legacy that includes millions of black and brown women and men incarcerated.

Reframing the problem

Blackness and black people. Both persist as our nation’s—dare I say even our world’s—problem. When contact tracing first cropped up at the beginning of the pandemic, it was easy to see it as a necessary but benign health surveillance tool. The coronavirus was our problem, and we began to design new surveillance technologies in the form of contact tracing, temperature monitoring, and threat mapping applications to help address it.

But something both curious and tragic happened. We discovered that black people, Latinx people, and indigenous populations were disproportionately infected and affected. Suddenly, we also became a national problem; we disproportionately threatened to spread the virus. That was compounded when the tragic murder of George Floyd by a white police officer sent thousands of protesters into the streets. When the looting and rioting started, we—black people—were again seen as a threat to law and order, a threat to a system that perpetuates white racial power. It makes you wonder how long it will take for law enforcement to deploy those technologies we first designed to fight covid-19 to quell the threat that black people supposedly pose to the nation’s safety.

If we don’t want our technology to be used to perpetuate racism, then we must make sure that we don’t conflate social problems like crime or violence or disease with black and brown people. When we do that, we risk turning those people into the problems that we deploy our technology to solve, the threat we design it to eradicate.