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7 Reasons to Study Artificial Intelligence

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Artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of sci-fi dramas – it is here, and it is everywhere. The technology sector is investing heavily in AI, and so is everyone else because the potential applications of intelligent technologies are innumerable. We resolve customer service issues with chatbots. Automated systems process data. Intelligent systems power vehicles that do not need a human driver behind the wheel. There are even FDA-approved AI-powered diagnostic applications that do not require a doctor to interpret the results.

In 2019, investors poured nearly $40 billion into artificial intelligence integration in industries as varied as business, medicine and entertainment. In 2020, the McKinsey Global Survey on artificial intelligence found that half of the respondents said their organizations adopted AI in at least one function. What followed was opportunity. 'Artificial intelligence specialist' spent two years at the top of LinkedIn's annual emerging jobs and jobs on the rise reports. And the pace of growth in artificial intelligence is not slowing down. The World Economic Forum estimates that there will be 97 million new jobs in AI by 2025.

The question is, who is going to fill those open positions? As the practical applications of artificial intelligence expand, demand for computer science professionals with artificial intelligence skills and AI specialists will likely grow across industries. Now may be the best time to invest in yourself with an artificial intelligence degree program like the Online M.S. in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) offered by SMU Lyle School of Engineering. If you're still unsure whether your future lies in artificial intelligence, this guide explores why technology-savvy professionals from across industries are making the time to earn AI degrees.

Why Everyone Should Study Artificial Intelligence

1. Artificial Intelligence Is Here to Stay

Businesses were already experimenting with intelligent systems before the COVID-19 pandemic. One Gartner study found that the number of enterprises implementing AI technologies grew by 270 percent between 2015 and 2019. The pandemic accelerated AI's expansion further and faster, cementing it as a crucial business tool. Three-quarters of organizations surveyed in Appen's State of AI Report said AI fueled their successes in 2020. And most organizations now use some artificial intelligence technologies, though they may not realize just how intelligent those systems really are. Experts predict the global AI software market will be worth a staggering $126 billion by 2025. Moving forward, many industries will prioritize hires who can take internal and outward-facing systems to the next level using AI-driven technologies such as computer vision and natural language processing.

2. There are Computer Science and AI Opportunities in Most Fields

Organizations across industries regularly find new uses for intelligent systems. IBM used computer vision to identify significant golf shots in the 2018 Masters Tournament, automatically creating highlight reels for viewers. Uber is using AI to power self-driving cars. Therapists and educators leverage social robots, hiring managers rely on AI to vet applicants and retailers tap into machine learning to automate marketing and drive customer engagement. Alexa and Google have become kitchen-counter mainstays in many homes. And specialists with graduate-level artificial intelligence degrees are conducting cutting-edge research that could eventually make humans safer, smarter and more productive.

3. The Real-World Applications of an Artificial Intelligence Degree are Limitless

Most AI and automation specialists do not think of machine learning as a replacement for human creativity or ingenuity. Instead, they look at intelligent systems as optimization tools. Most executives believe that artificial intelligence will improve collaboration between humans and computers. AI can take over menial tasks humans tend to dislike, such as sifting through unstructured data or responding to redundant customer service inquiries. Artificial intelligence can also perform tedious administrative work, detect fraud, identify inefficiencies, read radiological scans and more. The Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for example, are exploring how artificial intelligence programs can diagnose cancers early on, allowing for faster treatment.

One of the most innovative subsets of artificial intelligence is deep learning, a branch of machine learning that uses layered neural networks to analyze complex data sources. Deep learning can create something as simple as an online board game, as responsive as automatic speech recognition software or as complex as a drug toxicology prediction program. The breakout company AtomNet developed a deep learning neural network that could quickly analyze tens of thousands of compounds, helping healthcare researchers discover and test new drugs faster. Deep neural networks can even identify pieces of art and create new images in the same style.

4. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Is Expanding

In a Pew Research survey, Erik Brynjolfsson, author of Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future, said, "I think it is more likely than not that we will use [AI] to make the world a better place. For instance, we can virtually eliminate global poverty, massively reduce disease and provide better education to almost everyone on the planet."

Consider the potential of AI to address inequity: Roughly 759 million people globally, largely in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, do not have access to reliable electricity. This creates significant health challenges along with barriers to education and gender equality. Artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning, can expand access to clean, renewable energy sources worldwide while cutting operating costs and reducing waste through methods such as smart metering. Smart grids monitor energy demand and usage in real-time, providing data to electric companies while analyzing consumers' usage patterns. These grids can respond to urgent electricity needs and, when paired with neural networking, predict weather patterns and provide energy accordingly.

If you already have a grasp of computer science fundamentals – e.g., expertise in a programming language like Python or experience in software development – studying artificial intelligence in a graduate program is a surefire way to prepare to make a broader societal impact. Southern Methodist University's online MSCS-AI teaches the skills you will need to develop AI programs that benefit humanity. The computer science master's curriculum encourages students to think about AI integration, technological decision-making and human-computer interaction in the context of ethics and sustainability.

5. Artificial Intelligence Skills Are in High Demand

Ninety-one percent of employers who see barriers to AI realization cite lack of access to talent as a significant challenge. That is where artificial intelligence degree programs come into play. The MSCS-AI curriculum provides students with highly specialized and up-to-date skills that not only meet employer expectations in the present but are adaptable as organizational needs change. Demand for AI skills has grown at a staggering rate. While more than 80 percent of large, enterprise-level organizations want to hire talent with machine learning, reinforcement learning and deep learning skills, only 12 percent report that they can find workers who meet these qualifications.

More demand means more money on the table. One study found that AI skills carry a wage premium of 11 percent within firms and five percent by job title. Companies with the most job listings for AI specialists tend to offer higher salaries across positions. Some companies are even creating new executive positions such as Chief AI Officer to spearhead artificial intelligence implementation and drive AI strategy.

6. You'll Be One of the Few Professionals With a Graduate Degree in AI

This might not be true in 15 years, but it is the case now. Though the number of artificial intelligence degree programs in the U.S. is growing, graduate degrees in AI are still rare and sought after by employers. Businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies actively seek professionals who can help them leverage existing AI technologies and develop the cutting-edge artificial intelligence applications of the future. More than half of the business executives polled in Deloitte's State of AI in the Enterprise survey report using deep learning to analyze datasets.

Now is the time to get in ahead of the competition, especially as the U.S. invests heavily in AI as part of its plan to establish dominance in the field. According to a Center for Data Innovation report, the United States "has the most AI start-ups, with its AI start-up ecosystem having received the most private equity and venture capital funding." U.S.-trained artificial intelligence specialists also tend to have more elite qualifications.

Why pursue a master's specifically versus a bachelor's degree? According to Datamation, 26 percent of artificial intelligence job listings require a master's degree. Earning a master's in artificial intelligence is one way to differentiate yourself from the competition in a changing technology job market.

7. AI Jobs Pay Exceedingly Well

Here's some math you will not need a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence to perform: booming demand + skills gaps = higher salaries. According to Zip Recruiter, artificial intelligence engineers earn close to $165,000 on average, while artificial intelligence specialists earn about $163,000. The highest earners in the field earn salaries above $350,000.

Pursuing an AI master's degree online gives you the time and space to earn an artificial intelligence degree as you work and live. There's no need to take a sabbatical or make significant changes to your lifestyle. You can continue earning money full-time while you study part-time, making the ROI of an AI-focused computer science master's such as SMU's MSCS-AI higher than that of other degrees.

One More Compelling Reason to Study Artificial Intelligence

If you do not have an undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence or work in technology, you may not think you are the kind of person who has a future in AI and machine learning. While it's true that technology firms still hire the most artificial intelligence professionals, there are numerous artificial intelligence jobs in fields such as banking and finance, healthcare and medical research, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, energy, scientific research and education.

AI is no longer a niche discipline; it's a robust and varied field of study benefitting humanitarians, governments and creatives. It is also increasingly a people-oriented field, which means there is no one-size-fits-all career trajectory. Some people who study AI have backgrounds in computer systems. Others bring data analysis experience to the classroom. As the demand for AI continues to exceed the available talent, it is clear there is a very real need for more flexibility and varied experiences in artificial intelligence training programs. SMU's 10-course MSCS-AI is moving the study of artificial intelligence beyond algorithms and software engineering into the human sphere to develop AI experts who can harness the power of this technology across disciplines.

Apply now, and in less than two years, you will have the advanced skills necessary to take advantage of the growing opportunities in this innovative field.