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Don't let HR say you can't afford a head of AI

(Bloomberg) -- Companies need to start breaking bank to win over artificial intelligence experts from the tech giants -- but it’s worth it.

“Don’t let HR tell you” the company can’t afford the salaries, said Kai-Fu Lee, the founder of startup incubator Sinovation Ventures and former China head for Google, at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday.

“Google is paying a million dollars for these superstars. You may not need someone that high but you’ve got to break the scale for at least one person,” he said.

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An attendee tries out an application on a SoftBank Group Corp. Pepper humanoid robot at the SoftBank Robot World 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Salaries for AI specialists have skyrocketed amid a shortage of top talent, with newly minted Ph.D.s earning north of $300,000 and top-ranked senior academics commanding multimillion-dollar, multiyear contracts. Salaries at DeepMind, an AI company owned by Alphabet Inc., averaged $345,000 in 2016, according to U.K. regulatory filings.

The head of Airbus SE’s defense & space unit, Dirk Hoke, said on the same panel that it faced “a lot of difficulties” finding enough candidates as the European planemaker ramps up efforts to mine and digitize its own engineering and flight data. Europe is starting to fall behind in those technologies, he said.