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The state of global AI research

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More insights from ETO's Research Almanac and Map of Science

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Over the past several months, we've been busy improving and updating the research data that powers many of our tools, such as the Map of Science and Research Almanac. Our last post used the data to explore trends in AI safety research. Today, we'll look at the broader field, exploring how AI research is growing, differentiating, and spreading around the world.

Key findings

  • Global AI research more than doubled from 2017 to 2022, fueled in large part by rapid growth in natural language processing and computer vision research. Robotics research saw slower but still notable gains.
  • AI safety research is growing much faster, but from a much smaller base. We estimate AI safety research comprises only 2% of overall AI research.
  • China leads in AI research output - but when only highly cited articles are counted, the U.S. takes the top spot.
  • The Chinese Academy of Sciences leads the world in both overall AI research output and highly cited AI research output.
  • According to the latest data from the Research Almanac, about 1.2 million AI-related articles were released between 2017 and 2022. (This total, and the other Research Almanac-derived findings in this post, are based on articles with English titles or abstracts in our Merged Academic Corpus; they omit articles published solely in Chinese and non-public research. For further details and caveats, see the Almanac documentation.)
  • AI research grew 121% overall between 2017 and 2022.
  • Different AI subtopics account for notably different shares of AI research overall, and are growing at different rates:
    • About 400,000 articles - 32% of the AI total - were about computer vision. Computer vision research grew 121% between 2017 and 2022.
    • About 135,000 articles - 11% of the AI total - were about natural language processing. NLP research grew 104% between 2017 and 2022.
    • About 185,000 articles - 15% of the AI total - were about robotics. Robotics research grew 54% between 2017 and 2022 - notably slower than the AI field as a whole, computer vision, and NLP.
    • Finally, research into AI safety grew a massive 315% over this period, but from a much smaller base. According to Research Almanac data, safety research comprises only 2% of all research into AI.
  • 18% of the AI-related articles in the Research Almanac dataset had American authors. 25% had Chinese authors, and 17% had European authors. (Note that some articles lack information about author nationality, and articles published solely in Chinese are omitted, which could affect the numbers for Chinese authors.)
  • Looking only at highly cited articles, America claims the top spot from China. 36% of top-cited AI articles (defined as the 10% of articles in each publication year with the most citations) had American authors, compared to 31% with Chinese authors and 19% with European authors.

To view the next five leading countries in AI research and see how global authorship has evolved over time across all countries, visit the "Countries" section in the Research Almanac.

  • In the aggregate, Chinese researchers seem to focus more on robotics and especially computer vision compared to U.S. researchers. U.S. researchers have a slight lead in NLP publication activity and a larger lead in AI safety work (though safety research is a very small "slice of the pie" for both the United States and China).

Top organizations

  • The five biggest producers of AI research articles are all Chinese research institutions, led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, with nearly 20,000 articles released between 2017 and 2022. (Again, we count only English-language articles - Chinese organizations' counts would likely be higher still if articles in Chinese were included.) American and Chinese organizations round out the top ten.
  • When only highly cited articles are counted, American institutions claim a larger share of the leaderboard, though the Chinese Academy of Sciences still leads overall.

To view the top ten companies active in AI research, visit the "Patents and industry" section in the Research Almanac.

Top research clusters

Using the Map of Science's recently revamped subject search along with other filters, we recently identified especially prominent, fast-growing concentrations of AI research. Out of 86,000 clusters in the Map, 20 AI-focused clusters rose to the top in our analysis. In a companion post, we explore these key areas and what they indicate about trends in global AI research.


Check out the companion post to unpack leading topics in global AI research: Red-hot topics in AI research: insights from the Map of Science

As always, we're glad to help in the meantime - visit our support hub to contact us, book live support with an ETO staff member or access the latest documentation for our tools and data. 🤖

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