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Is It Too Late to Start Studying Artificial Intelligence?

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Determining whether a tech wave is rising or cresting can be difficult, but you should certainly consider the question when making career decisions. However, be wary of putting too much stock into whether newer technologies are emerging or established. Take artificial intelligence, for instance. AI is everywhere you look. It powers product recommendations and driving apps. Healthcare providers use it when designing treatment plans, and intelligent systems stabilize supply chains. AI-powered automation is increasingly commonplace in fields as diverse as cyber security, retail, electrical engineering and agriculture. Given the ubiquity of this technology, you might wonder if it is too late to enroll in an artificial intelligence master's program.

Artificial intelligence adoption is not nearly as ubiquitous as it seems. The share of companies investing in this technology is smaller than most people realize. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, just under 25 percent of companies with more than 250 employees have invested in AI and AI-powered technologies. And only about 8 percent of companies with 10 or fewer employees have invested in artificial intelligence implementation, suggesting the artificial intelligence wave is nowhere near its peak. All signs point to AI enjoying an extended period of explosive growth. 

A survey by research firm Gartner covering 89 countries found a 270 percent jump in artificial intelligence implementation from 2015 to 2019. More recently, Gartner predicted the global AI market would reach $62 billion in 2022. Research firm Markets and Markets expects the worldwide artificial intelligence market will be worth $300 billion by 2026. Clearly, it is not too late to start studying artificial intelligence. As user experience designer Josh Clark puts it, "AI has not so much come of age as reached an awkward adolescence. We’re still inventing this together; you’re right on time." 

Your next question may be whether enrolling in an artificial intelligence master's program such as SMU Lyle School of Engineering's Online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) is the best way to take advantage of the cross-industry demand for AI skills. The answer is yes. Keep reading to find out how studying artificial intelligence in a master's program now can set you up for success in the present and future-proof your career.

Demand for Professionals with Artificial Intelligence Skills Is Still High

The numbers bear it out. LinkedIn's 2022 Jobs on the Rise report lists machine learning engineer as the fourth fastest-growing job title in the U.S. The World Economic Forum put AI and machine learning specialist second on its list of growing job demand (just under data analyst and data scientist). Since 2016, ZipRecruiter job postings that reference AI and machine learning skills have increased more than 2,000 percent. According to market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, employers post hundreds of thousands of jobs requiring artificial intelligence and machine learning skills each year. 

Note that those are not necessarily technology jobs. Demand for computer science professionals with AI skills is growing in tech and across industries such as healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing and retail. While some artificial intelligence specialists have titles such as natural language processing scientist, computational phonologist, computer vision expert, deep learning solutions engineer, multimodal UX engineer, NLP engineer and neural network engineer, others leverage their knowledge of artificial intelligence and machine learning in roles such as researcher, doctor, informatics specialist or operations manager.

The AI wave has not crested yet for several reasons. First, because the applications of artificial intelligence transcend the technology industry. Organizations are looking for AI software engineers and professionals comfortable leveraging AI in strategic decision-making. Second, this technology is still quite new, and we have barely scratched the surface of what AI can do. And third, because there is both an AI talent shortage and an AI skills gap. Organizations want to implement artificial intelligence, but the number of qualified artificial intelligence professionals has not kept pace with growing demand. O'Reilly’s AI Adoption in the Enterprise report, which surveyed more than 3,500 business leaders, found that nearly 20 percent cited skills issues as a "significant" barrier to AI implementation. 

Enroll in an artificial intelligence master's program now, and you will not be late to the game. Chances are, by the time you graduate from SMU's 30-credit hour online master's in artificial intelligence program, demand for professionals with world-class AI skills will have risen, not waned. 

AI and Machine Learning Skills Still Pay Off

Regardless of where we are in the artificial intelligence wave, salaries remain high in the field. Employers in the tech sector pay a premium for skills related to data science, natural language processing, intelligence systems, database management, algorithm engineering, machine learning, neural networks and other areas of artificial intelligence. 

O’Reilly reports AI professionals earn about $146,000 annually, irrespective of title. How much titles influence salaries in the field varies by employer, but looking at averages by title can give you an idea of how much you can earn in a specific role. For example, artificial intelligence engineers earn close to $165,000 while machine learning analysts earn about $119,000. Some technology-focused roles in AI and machine learning pay more while others pay less, but even early-career artificial intelligence specialists can earn about $115,000more than $5,000 more than the average IT professional. 

However, you don't have to work in technology to take advantage of the salary-boosting benefits of artificial intelligence skills. AI skills carry a wage premium of 11 percent across sectors, and that wage premium may be higher in financial services, consulting and government – three non-tech sectors that hire the most AI talent. 

Given the impact AI skills have on salary, the return on investment of an AI master's program such as SMU Lyle's MSCS-AI is high. Choose a part-time online master's degree program, and the ROI of an artificial intelligence master's goes up because you can continue working and advancing in your career while studying and apply what you're learning immediately in your current role.

AI May Be the Key to Future-Proofing Your Career

The World Economic Forum survey linked above found that more than 60 percent of organizations across sectors planned to adopt machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing or some other form of artificial intelligence. Digital communications, financial services, healthcare, transportation and energy topped the list of industries primed to invest in AI, but artificial intelligence adoption is largely industry neutral. Research conducted by the BCG Henderson Institute found that 91 percent of enterprises surveyed expect AI to deliver new business growth by 2023.

Employers will create artificial intelligence jobs in several areas with surprising foci. The AI jobs of the future may include AI copywriter, AI marketer, AI UX designer, AI strategy consultant, AI attorney and Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer. Artificial intelligence's applications in non-tech fields will only grow, and there may come a time when employers expect most, if not all, job candidates to have some advanced AI skills

According to an IBM Institute for Business Value study, 11.5 million workers in the U.S. will need to retrain or reskill in the next few years to keep pace with AI adoption. Studying artificial intelligence can mean earning a graduate certificate, finishing a technology bootcamp, earning a bachelor's degree or pursuing a course of self-study. However, you may soon need an advanced graduate degree to climb the ladder in roles that involve working closely with AI-powered technologies. Datamation found that 26 percent of artificial intelligence job listings require a master’s degree and even more prefer candidates who have PhDs in addition to master's degrees.

This preference for advanced degrees likely stems from AI engineering being so much more complex than programming. It requires a comprehensive understanding of database management, algorithm engineering, deep learning, machine learning, neural networks and Big Data, along with knowledge of several programming languages, including Hadoop, R, Java and Python. Artificial intelligence projects are typically interdisciplinary, and the professionals best suited to implement AI are often those with the deepest domain knowledge.

While standalone courses in artificial intelligence and certificate programs abound, those programs typically teach very basic AI and machine learning skills. Only artificial intelligence graduate programs such as SMU's Online MSCS-AI offer core courses that give students hands-on training in today's in-demand AI skills and the ability to adapt to new technologies as they inevitably arise. 

The core MSCS-AI curriculum covers database management, algorithm engineering, operating systems and computer architecture. Layered atop the computer science coursework are courses in development in Python with real-world applications and focused electives in mobile application development, data mining, information retrieval, logic programming, machine learning and neural networks.

The Right Time to Learn the Fundamentals of AI Is Now

If you are hesitant to start studying artificial intelligence now because you are worried that the field is becoming saturated, rest assured we are nowhere close to the top of the AI wave. More than 62,000 results on LinkedIn Jobs specifically target job seekers with artificial intelligence skills in the United States. There are thousands more jobs out there for professionals in non-tech fields with the skills necessary to leverage AI to address business and operational challenges. And there are numerous opportunities in artificial intelligence that don't add to jobs numbers because they involve employees reskilling and taking on more responsibility in their current roles.

Adding AI to your skillset will put you in a position to drive more value in your organization, whatever your industry, now and in the future. Tools and best practices will evolve alongside technology and new roles for AI experts will emerge, but the utility of artificial intelligence will likely never diminish. In SMU Lyle's MSCS-AI program, you will gain a deeper understanding of computer science, transferable artificial intelligence skills and the critical thinking skills necessary to implement AI technologies ethically in various systems – 100 percent online and all for a cost-effective investment of $43,500.