Carnegie Mellon Launches BA Degree for Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is a popular topic at the moment among the nation’s tech companies—and a lucrative one for the tech pros who specialize in it.

Conventional wisdom holds that anyone interested in becoming a master in A.I. and machine learning must undergo many years of education and training; the best-paid researchers in the field make millions, but only after years of study. Is there any way to accelerate that process?

Carnegie Mellon thinks so: The university has just launched an undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence, designed to fill the tech industry’s seemingly unstoppable hunger for tech pros who can find their way around a machine-learning algorithm. The school claims that this is the first instance in the United States of a school offering an A.I.-centric BA.

According to Reid Simmons, a research professor of robotics and computer science (and the director of the degree program), students will receive similar instruction in mathematics and computer science as “regular” computer-science majors. Other coursework will cover statistics and probability, computational modeling, machine learning, and symbolic computation.

Students who enter Carnegie Mellon’s computer science program can begin taking the coursework for an A.I. degree in their second year, after they’re taken core CS classes. The A.I. degree program is ultimately designed to accommodate only 30-35 new students each year, in contrast to the school’s broader CS program, which has roughly 735 students.

“It’s an opportunity for us to shape what it means to be a degree program in AI, as opposed to offering courses related to AI,” Simmons said in a statement released by the school. “We want to be the first to offer an AI undergraduate degree… I’m sure we won’t be the last. AI is here to stay.”

Carnegie Mellon has an extensive background in A.I. research. The school is famous as pioneer in autonomous-driving development, for instance, although its prominence in that sub-field also came with its share of Uber-related drama.

Those with the right education and experience in A.I. development can earn very hefty salaries. For example, The New York Times recently analyzed a tax filing by OpenAI, a nonprofit that specializes in A.I. work, and found that its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, made nearly $2 million in 2016. And Sutskever said he took that job for altruistic reasons, reportedly turning down gigs that paid far more.

So six- and seven-figure salaries are definitely part of the equation here. But in order to land that kind of job, you’ll need experience that goes well beyond a BA; if you’re interested in A.I. as a career, prepare for long-term education and work in order to achieve a sufficient degree of specialization.

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