What Is an Artificial Intelligence Specialist?

A graphic design of a hand beneath an artificial intelligence brain against a black background.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is an often misunderstood branch of computer science. In laypeople, it calls to mind visions of androids. Employers and hiring managers in non-technological fields assume AI can do anything and everything. And because this discipline is so new, job titles can be confusing.

Take 'artificial intelligence specialist,' which was the #1 job on LinkedIn's 2020 Emerging Jobs Report. Some employers post job opportunities specifically for artificial intelligence specialists, but many more seek AI researchers, AI engineers, and AI analysts. Each of these professionals has the skills and knowledge necessary to make computers perform tasks that generally require a human touch. The most talented among them create technologies that, in many cases, function better than people.

Self-driving cars react more quickly to changing conditions than living drivers. Neural networks can play games like Go and even poker better than human beings. Artificial intelligence systems designed to process speech make fewer errors when transcribing audio. AI already flies planes, builds investment portfolios, decides which of us is most likely to repay loans, and even makes art.

Eventually, artificial intelligence systems may build the more sophisticated technologies that replace them. Until then, demand booms for artificial intelligence specialists driving innovation in various industries.

Artificial intelligence is still most helpful with a human being at the helm.

The challenge they face is that the expanding applications of artificial intelligence have created a talent shortage that could slow AI adoption. That's bad news for companies who want to leverage the power of artificial intelligence but good news for those interested in launching careers in the field. An Online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) from SMU Lyle School of Engineering gives you the skills to become an artificial intelligence specialist and leverage AI across industries.

What Is an Artificial Intelligence Specialist?

A catch-all term for AI professionals working with the major technologies in this space, artificial intelligence specialists:

  • Create or implement artificial intelligence-powered services like chatbots.
  • Solve business or research problems using natural language processing (NLP), image recognition or text recognition.
  • Configure deep learning and evolutionary AI to automate or streamline operations in different industries.

Most artificial intelligence jobs are in applied AI, which uses the latest research into advanced information processing and statistical modeling in real-world settings.

Where do AI specialists typically work? Increasingly, everywhere. Technology firms still hire the most artificial intelligence specialists—but financial services, healthcare, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, energy, and education all use artificial intelligence systems designed, implemented, and configured by AI specialists. Even industries like sports, entertainment, and the arts have found ways to leverage these emerging technologies.

However, the list of companies that post the most artificial intelligence job opportunities is unsurprising:

  • Accenture
  • Adobe
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Lenovo
  • Microsoft
  • MoTekTechnologies
  • NVIDIA
  • PCOInnovation
  • Rakuten Marketing
  • Samsung
  • Uber
  • Wells Fargo

As companies integrate more AI technologies into electronic trading systems, medical diagnostic systems, semi-autonomous automobiles, smart appliances, and tools for creatives, the above list will evolve—and there may come a time when companies across industries have internal artificial intelligence teams the same way they increasingly have data science and IT teams.

Why are AI Specialists in Demand?

We can sum up the answer in two words: automation and insights.

The most common artificial intelligence applications involve handing off tasks that humans tend to do poorly—or don't want to do—to computers designed to learn. That's an important distinction, given that people have programmed computers to take over mundane responsibilities since they invented the first electronic computing devices.

AI-powered computers and computer systems:

  • Sift through enormous quantities of information for present-day and potential future connections that no human or regular computer system would be able to identify.
  • Uncover relationships, insights, and inconsistencies in vast and highly variable data sets.
  • Make predictions about what will happen in the future based on what happened in the past.
  • Adjust to changing inputs and identify when inputs seem 'off.'
  • Work with inputs regular computers can't handle, including speech, handwritten text, or images.
  • Perform data entry, detect fraud, identify unsafe conditions, respond to customer service inquiries, and read radiological scans—among many, many other things.

The caveat is that artificial intelligence is still most helpful with a human being at the helm. AI systems might eventually program themselves or even build the next generation of artificial intelligence. Until then, highly trained human specialists have to create and configure the systems powering technologies such as self-driving cars, conversational chatbots, and speech- and facial recognition programs. Companies across industries are already investing heavily in AI infrastructure and talent. In 2019, artificial intelligence attracted nearly $40 billion in investments globally, and a future version of the Endless Frontier Act could pour tens of billions of dollars of additional funding into AI research in the U.S.

An Online M.S. in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization can take your career in many directions because 'AI specialist' isn't just one role.

As job opportunities for AI roles grow by leaps and bounds, companies across industries—including the big-name tech firms with plenty of money to invest in AI—compete for talent. That's one reason salaries in artificial intelligence are higher than the national average across occupations and higher than salaries in other tech disciplines.

How Much Do Artificial Intelligence Specialists Earn?

The average salary for artificial intelligence specialists is about $127,000 per year. Entry-level AI professionals earn about $115,000 but, with experience, AI specialist salaries can exceed $350,000 in base pay, bonuses, and company stock.

While it remains unclear how AI job titles impact pay, salaries across artificial intelligence roles reflect advanced training, skills, and relatively rare knowledge. However, what's abundantly clear is the ROI of an AI-focused computer science master's program.

What Skills Does an Artificial Intelligence Specialist Need?

Artificial intelligence specialists have a wide variety of technical and non-technical expertise. AI combines many disciplines, such as computer science, data science, neurology, cognitive science, philosophy, and mathematics.

Technical skills are crucial in artificial intelligence and include:

  • Algorithm engineering
  • Database management and information retrieval
  • Data mining to find patterns, trends, correlations, and anomalies in large datasets
  • Deep learning, a method of training interconnected processing nodes modeled on the human mind
  • Machine Learning preprocessing, visualization, classification, and regression
  • Natural Language Processing, which helps computers assess language like human beings do
  • Python, which has become the default language of AI researchers and engineers
  • Signal processing techniques

Many people are unaware that soft skills are just as essential as hard skills in AI. That's because artificial intelligence specialists have to help less tech-savvy stakeholders understand technological solutions. Consequently, successful AI professionals usually have soft skills related to:

  • Communication
  • Creative thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Organization
  • Problem-solving
  • Relationship building
  • Stress management
  • Teamwork

According to one recent survey, gaining these skills and becoming an AI specialist involves more than just completing standalone boot camp courses. The top artificial intelligence professionals typically train in intensive programs via hands-on, practical work and participation in cutting-edge research.

How to Become an AI Specialist

If you're wondering whether you need a master's degree to work in AI, consider that more than 42 percent of people working in artificial intelligence have master's degrees. Companies hiring for open artificial intelligence specialist jobs typically look for the best of the best. While artificial intelligence-focused graduate degrees are still relatively rare, they're not uncommon. A background in systems analysis and data science plus fluency in several computer languages can help you get into an AI-focused MSCS program. Still, it probably won't help you land a job or stay current with Machine Learning and AI systems trends. For that, you need a master's degree.

Artificial intelligence isn't just a fad, and artificial intelligence specialist isn't a title that will curtail your prospects.

As a discipline, artificial intelligence evolves quickly. Top AI master's programs build curriculums around the in-demand skills and the emerging technologies shaping the future. At SMU Lyle, students take project-based, interactive core and elective courses including:

  • Advanced Data Mining
  • Algorithm Engineering
  • Knowledge-Intensive Problem Solving
  • Machine Learning and Neural Networks
  • Machine Learning in Python
  • Mobile Applications for Sensing and Learning

SMU Lyle MSCS graduates have the tools and skills needed to implement AI-powered solutions in their organizations effectively and ethically—in the present and the future.

What AI Specialist Career Paths Look Like

An Online M.S. in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization can take your career in many directions because 'AI specialist' isn't just one role. Job opportunities are abundant, and artificial intelligence professionals hold titles such as:

  • AI application engineer
  • AI architect
  • AI developer
  • AI engineer
  • AI researcher
  • Artificial intelligence expert
  • Artificial intelligence specialist
  • Deep learning engineer
  • Machine Learning research scientist
  • ML engineer

Some artificial intelligence specialists have titles that speak to specialized expertise, including:

  • Applied NLP scientist
  • Computational phonologist
  • Computer vision expert
  • Deep learning solutions engineer
  • Multimodal UX engineer
  • Natural language processing (NLP) engineer
  • Neural network engineer

And senior roles in AI have emerged, including:

  • AI program manager
  • Director of AI engineering
  • Director of AI research
  • Senior AI application engineer
  • Senior AI architect
  • Senior AI researcher
  • Senior principal artificial intelligence engineer

This profusion of differently-named roles that can involve the same responsibilities can make mapping a career in AI complicated. However, with the right skills and experience, you can move into any of the above roles.

Is Becoming an AI Specialist Right for You?

"In the entire world, fewer than 10,000 people have the skills necessary to tackle serious artificial intelligence research," Element AI, an independent lab in Montreal, told the New York Times in 2017. Since then, degree programs like SMU Lyle School of Engineering's Online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization have trained more artificial intelligence experts—so, while that figure is probably too low, there's still a notable shortage of AI talent in the world, and the relative scarcity of artificial intelligence specialists may delay the widespread adoption of AI-powered technologies. One survey conducted by the multinational information and analytics company RELX found that two out of five companies cited a lack of technical expertise as the most significant impediment to AI adoption.

Consequently, careers in artificial intelligence are secure, lucrative, and (in terms of opportunity) limitless for those with an aptitude for computer science and data science. There was a time when AI was a niche technology used primarily in computational research. Today, businesses, governments, and even artists look for ways to leverage artificial intelligence—and for specialists who can help them do it. People associate this discipline with the technology sector, finance and cybersecurity, but there are already jobs for AI specialists in healthcare, academia, manufacturing, and entertainment. Employers across industries will create an estimated 133 million new jobs related to AI and Machine Learning by 2022.

With an Online MSCS-AI from SMU Lyle, you'll have the skills, knowledge, and credentials to pursue various careers in computer science and AI, including but not limited to artificial intelligence specialists. Applying now is an investment in yourself that will pay off for the entirety of your professional life.

Artificial intelligence isn't just a fad, and artificial intelligence specialist isn't a title that will curtail your prospects. The opposite is true. Given the breadth of potential applications of AI plus the multitude of closely related job titles in the field, you'll likely never want for work after earning a master's in artificial intelligence, and you'll be able to move between industries when the mood strikes. That kind of job security coupled with career freedom is scarce. It may be the most compelling reason to get the education you'll need to become an artificial intelligence specialist.