The buzz around artificial intelligence doesn’t appear poised to settle down anytime soon, as the Chat GPT tool surpassed 1 million users in less than a week and its founder, Sam Altman, has said the future of A.I. is both terrifying and awesome. In turn, colleges and universities are looking for new opportunities to capitalize on the interest in the technology and study its risks.
Why thousands of students are flocking to this new AI degree program at UT AustinBY Kayla SolinoJanuary 31, 2023, 10:40 PM
Last week, the University of Texas at Austin jumped into the fray by announcing plans to launch an online master’s degree program in artificial intelligence (MSAI)—and early indications suggest there’s white-hot interest in this program, just like with A.I. more generally. Within 24 hours of the announcement, 4,000-plus prospective students had requested more information from the university. UT Austin will join several top-ranked universities that already offer a master’s in A.I., including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
“Given the excitement and the applicability of machine learning and A.I., we thought that it would be a game changer to launch this program to give the workforce on a national level the ability to get up to speed on some of these groundbreaking tools and techniques,” Adam Klivans, a professor of computer science at UT Austin tells Fortune. He also serves as director of the National A.I. Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning (IFML), which was designated by the National Science Foundation in 2020 to help develop foundational tools for the future of A.I. innovation. “What we’ve discovered is that they’re all using tools and ideas from artificial intelligence and machine learning…and their workforce needs to be trained to learn a lot of these ideas and these tools,” he adds.
Here’s what you need to know about the new program.
UT Austin wants to be at the forefront of A.I. education
UT Austin’s new program will expand its suite of online graduate degrees, adding to existing programs of a master’s in computer science and a master’s in data science. The online master’s of science in artificial intelligence (MSAI) program will begin accepting applications in June 2023.
The university is striving to be at the forefront of A.I. education, Klivans notes, and is seeing a surge in applications in related fields. In the last year, the university’s computer science department received 8,400 applications to its entire suite of on-campus and online graduate programs, Brent Winkelman, chief of staff of the UT computer science department, tells Fortune. That’s triple the number of applications just five years ago, and is being driven mostly by students who are interested in pursuing careers in artificial intelligence, he adds.
“Demand continues to balloon at an exponential rate, which is why designing programs like MSAI to be flexible and scalable is so critical to being able to respond to this need,” Winkelman says.
The new MSAI program is being offered in partnership with the online education platform edX and will be delivered by UT Austin’s department of computer science and machine learning laboratory, which is the campus headquarters for machine learning research. University faculty have been involved with the drafting of the curriculum and courseware.
The master’s degree program is immersive and intended to equip students for an array of potential career opportunities, such as in technology, cybersecurity, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and other corporate industries utilizing A.I. and machine learning. “Tools for machine learning and artificial intelligence are having a major impact on fields beyond the typical kinds of tech companies that you would think of when you think of A.I. and machine learning,” Klivans notes.
Participating students will benefit from training and education in natural language processing, reinforcement learning, computer vision, deep learning, and A.I. ethics. Some featured courses include Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, Automated Logical Reasoning, Deep Learning, and Online Learning Optimization. The ethical training is generated by faculty from the UT’s Good Systems project, a research initiative to develop new A.I. technologies that serve the greater societal good, as well as the Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning. Beyond UT Austin, the institute also includes researchers from the University of Washington, Wichita State University, and Microsoft Research—and the new MSAI program was partly motivated by the IFML’s mission, Klivans says.
How to apply to UT Austin’s master’s in A.I. program
Students who wish to apply to the program should already hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or a “comparable degree” from a foreign academic institution in order to be considered for the program. UT Austin’s application is not live yet, but the university will begin accepting applications on June 1. The program is set to start in Spring 2024.
The online MSAI program is designed to cover about two years worth of course content but is to be taken at the learner’s own pace. The fully online and asynchronous program will offer pre-recorded lectures, weekly release schedules, and part- or full-time options to offer flexibility to working enrollees. The cost of tuition is $10,000 in tuition, which will cover the cost of 10 related courses.
Though applicants will likely have a computer science, statistics, data, or artificial intelligence background, Klivans says the program is open to individuals with other experiences, and that the university is ready to “scale up” to meet any demand. “That’s the beautiful thing about the online program,” he says. “If we suddenly had 50,000 more people who were really fluent in machine learning and A.I., I think you’d see a lot more scientific innovation. I think you’d see a lot more productivity.”
Application requirements may include transcripts from previous institutions attended, recommendation letters, a statement of purpose, and a resume. The GRE exam will be optionally required. The MSAI degree is still awaiting final approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but interested applicants can fill out an online form to stay in touch and get additional admissions information before the MSAI program begins accepting applications on June 1 at the MSAI program website.
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