Apr 19, 2019

An AI frenzy at universities

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amid a torrid geopolitical, commercial and scientific race around artificial intelligence, universities are adding professors, classes and entire new programs, but there is still a massive talent shortage, forcing companies to contemplate creative ways around it.

The big picture: The frenzy at American and Canadian universities reflects the changing technology cycle, in which AI is expected to become perhaps the defining factor in economic and geopolitical power in the decades ahead.

Students are pouring into computer science programs from coast to coast in the U.S. and Canada, university professors tell us. But the AI students among them still number at most in the low thousands in all at the moment, while companies say they are prepared to hire tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of AI experts.

  • Yoshua Bengio, an AI pioneer who teaches at the University of Montreal, said the school has had to cap a deep-learning course at 200 students, and that new faculty positions are being added to accommodate enormous demand.
  • The competition for top AI specialists among universities and between universities and industry "is ... fierce in all areas of AI: computer vision, robotics, natural language processing, machine learning," said Ed Lazowska, a professor at the University of Washington.

Carnegie Mellon University is among those diving most heavily into AI: In September, CMU will begin teaching what appears to be the first undergraduate AI program in the U.S., with 37 students aiming for a bachelor's degree.

  • After a B.S. in AI, a natural next step would be a graduate degree in something else, such as chemistry or business, said Tom Mitchell, interim dean of CMU's School of Computer Science. "But a lot of them won't get a chance because the market for them is so [hot] now." They will be hired away on graduation, he said.
  • Because of the shortage, salaries straight out of school are in the six figures, in some cases reportedly $300,000 a year and more for top graduates.

In addition, as we previously reported, CMU is inaugurating the country's first graduate program in "automated science," creating specialists in the automation of biology. The first class of 13 students arrives at the campus this summer.

  • What’s happening: These are students who would typically be aiming at careers conducting experiments in a lab. But automation is headed toward the bench — robots are beginning to take over experiments.
  • The automated science degree is meant to allow young biologists to get ahead of that trend and learn how to work with, operate and maintain the robots that will conduct the experiments, said Chris Langmead, a professor who runs the program.
  • They are going to be the automators, rather than the automated.

Mitchell said companies are astonished by how few graduates are coming — and how long it will take before they get out of school. "The companies don't need someone with a four-year degree. They don't have four years to wait."

Among the contemplated solutions:

  • Hire one AI graduate, who can then teach many other company employees.
  • Put their employees through an intensive three-week course that familiarizes them with AI. They would thereby learn "the art, not the science, of applying the algorithm," Mitchell said.
  • At Stanford, one-quarter of a roughly 400-person AI class are employees of various companies.

What's next: CMU, AI4ALL and others are developing AI curricula for high schools.

Go deeper: Canadian AI summer school shows its global ambition

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 a.m. ET: 1,203,923 — Total deaths: 64,795 — Total recoveries: 247,273Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 a.m. ET: 312,237 — Total deaths: 8,502 — Total recoveries: 14,997Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
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World coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases top 1.2 million

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The number of novel coronavirus cases surpassed 1.2 million worldwide Saturday night, as Spain overtook Italy as the country with the most infections outside the U.S.

The big picture: About half the planet's population is now on lockdown and the global death toll was nearing 64,800, by Sunday morning, per Johns Hopkins data.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 53 mins ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,500

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 8,500 in the U.S. early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: President Trump said Saturday America's is facing its "toughest" time "between this week and next week." Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said U.S. deaths are expected to continue to rise during this period.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health