Artificial Intelligence (AI) has permeated almost every aspect of our lives from the workplace, to retail, to healthcare. As demand for AI specialists increases, so does the need for students who can build, use and manage emerging AI technologies.
We caught up with industry experts Andrew Bettany (AB), Azure Skills Lead Higher Education at Microsoft, Julian Hatwell (JH), PhD candidate in Machine Learning and member of BCU's Data Analytics and AI research group and Paul Hopkins (PH), Interim Programme Director, NHS England to uncover the future of AI and find out why now is the time to study AI.
Can you summarise the future of AI in one sentence?
AB: In the future, AI will affect everything and everyone.
JH: AI and data science will be the defining technologies of the 21st Century.
PH: AI will change the way that we do almost everything in the future – for both good and bad…!
Why is now a good time to study Artificial Intelligence?
AB: Be pioneering, part of the first generation of graduates harnessing AI for good.
JH: Now is a tipping point. AI used to be a differentiator that offered a competitive advantage to early adopters. However, AI is fast becoming ubiquitous, adopted everywhere. AI-driven applications and services will be the new normal and organisations that don't make the shift will be left behind. These skills will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
PH: We are on the cusp of a major step forward – even greater than the introduction of the Internet in the early 1990s or the smartphone in the ‘noughties’. Getting a good understanding and practical skills in AI will set you up for a potentially dazzling career!
What makes AI skills important not only for Computing professionals but across the board?
AB: The awareness and appreciation of the capabilities of AI and how AI can enhance the world will certainly set you apart at interview.
JH: I would turn this question on its head. Why should AI skills only be the purview of computing professionals? Technology is there to enable human endeavour, not exist for its own sake. Anything you can think of, or are passionate about doing, can be viewed from an AI lens and taken as the next challenge for research and innovation. Computing professionals alone cannot bring this breadth of ideas to the table, which is why we need people with diverse interests to skill up. The world doesn't need a bunch of group-thinking data scientists. It needs a diverse range of individuals with data science skills.
PH: AI will create huge societal changes and enormous changes to ways in which all people go about their daily activities – at home, at work and within their communities.
What would be your advice to individuals considering a career in AI?
AB: Grasp AI with both hands, and let your imagination run wild with the untapped possibilities that await the application of AI. The future is literally in your hands.
JH: From a practical perspective, there are a few core skills that everyone who wants to take full advantage of AI will need: a programming language, and some fundamental maths and statistics. It can seem daunting at first but the nice thing is that these skills fit well together.
Take on small projects that integrate the learning as a complete whole with concrete outcomes, rather than trying to learn various topics and theories separately. There are lots of online resources, courses, and tutorial examples. You need to be constantly curious and try things out for yourself. When things go wrong, paste your error messages into Google and you will surely find an answer.
From a career perspective, much like any other area, who you know is as important as what you know. The most exciting career opportunities are to be found through professional networks. Don't spend all your time on learning at the computer. Put aside some time to meet people, talk about your research and projects and build a public profile.
1. Pick an area with huge growth potential. For example, the internet created huge opportunities for Web Designers, the smartphone created the role of App Developers, every commercial organisation will need Conversation Designers who can use AI and ‘street language’ to engage with their customers.
2.Jump in and develop some simple AI solutions – get experience of putting them in to local organisations/charities/university – and your own websites.
3. Market yourself as a ‘safe pair of hands’ and a ‘quietly competent’ AI developer!
4. Always remember that AI is just a current, hot technology. Long term success depends upon personality, trustworthiness and other social and personal skills!
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