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AI Jobs, Like Previous Tech Innovations, Are Starting to Cluster in Superstar Cities

Silicon Valley, Bay Area, San Francisco, Brookings Institution, AI, Artificial Intelligence
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

By The Registry Staff

As the fervor around generative artificial intelligence (AI) mounts, with large language models (LLMs) gaining prominence, a crucial discussion has emerged around the geographical distribution of the burgeoning AI job market. Despite the idealistic notion that generative AI could democratize tech by empowering small and geographically diverse firms, recent data by the Brookings Institution indicates a stark contrast to this hopeful vision. Without strategic interventions, the clustering of generative AI jobs in established tech hubs threatens to perpetuate the existing imbalances in the tech industry.

Tech Innovation’s Ingrained Geographical Bias

In digital industries, innovation has historically gravitated towards certain epicenters—take Silicon Valley, for instance. These hubs benefit from innovation clusters, specialized talent pools, and network effects favoring incumbents. This phenomenon is not unfamiliar; as Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom’s research has highlighted, disruptive technologies have long favored their core regions, creating a feedback loop that cements their pioneering status.

This trend is reflected starkly in the AI sector. A report from Brookings in 2021 underscored that the Bay Area and a handful of other metros dominated the nation’s AI scene across various metrics, from federal contracting to startups. Fast forward to a more recent analysis, and Brookings sees this concentration tightening, with over 60 percent of generative AI job postings found in just 10 metro areas, and the Bay Area alone accounting for nearly a quarter.

The Peculiar Dynamics of AI Development

While some argue that AI’s trajectory could differ, given its foundation in digital technologies and the potential for decentralization, the reality is nuanced. The development of AI, especially the resource-intensive training of foundational models, has a natural inclination towards established tech hubs. First-mover advantages and the need for substantial computing power and technical expertise mean these “superstar cities” continue to draw a disproportionate share of AI activity.

A Call to Action for a More Inclusive AI Landscape

Recognizing the potential for regional disparities to grow, the Brookings report finds that national and local entities must implement strategies to foster a more inclusive AI geography. It suggests numerous avenues for intervention:

  • Expanding Research Networks: The expansion of the National Science Foundation’s National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes program can catalyze AI innovation across the nation, leveraging the widespread network of universities.
  • Democratizing AI Resources: The proposed National AI Research Resource (NAIRR) promises to provide essential data and computational resources, potentially lowering the barriers to AI development in emerging tech regions.
  • Boosting Digital Education and Training: Efforts must be undertaken to broaden digital literacy and AI-specific skills, particularly among underrepresented groups and in locales where AI is gaining a foothold.
  • Leveraging Place-Based Industrial Policy: States and regions should tap into programs like those encouraged by the CHIPS and Science Act to nurture local AI ecosystems.

The Road Ahead: Decentralizing AI

The ultimate question remains: Can the trajectory of AI growth forge a new path distinct from previous digital technologies? The proliferation of open-source development and the advent of more accessible computation may offer a beacon of hope. Yet, as the latest job posting data reveals, the inherent winner-take-most dynamic still looms large over the sector.

To avoid the perpetuation of geographical monopolies in the AI field, concerted efforts from all levels of governance are needed. AI benefits can only be distributed across a broader spectrum of communities through proactive, intentional strategies, Brookings concluded. The potential for AI to be a catalyst for regional economic revitalization is there—but realizing it will require a directed, inclusive vision for the future of tech innovation.