OpEd: Degrees of the Future: Artificial Intelligence


About the Author: Serusha Govender is a science & technology journalist, digital strategist, and emerging technology specialist working on the intersection between human and gender rights, policy, and  technological  innovation.

Ever since OpenAI’s ChatGPT became the talk of the town, followed quicky by Microsoft’s Bing and a host of competitors, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of work has again become a key point of focus for companies, workers, and graduate schools looking to educate and train a new generation of tech savants.

And there’s good reason to be focused on how the growth of AI will impact the future job market – just last year, the global artificial Intelligence market was valued at $136.6 billion with growth expected to surpass one and a half trillion dollars by 2030. Already, nine in ten leading global businesses reported ongoing investments in artificial intelligence and an increasing number of cross-sectors employers are increasingly looking to hire candidates with specialized degrees in fields like AI development, data analysis, and machine learning.

Photo by DeepMind on Unsplash                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Photo by Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash

Yet, despite this demand, supply for these specialized degrees is still lagging; countries well-known for academic excellence and past contributions to the field of AI currently still lead the offerings: The United States (Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California – Berkeley), the United Kingdom (University of Oxford, and Imperial College London), Canada (University of Toronto), China (Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Chinese University of Hong Kong), and Japan (the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University) being just a few that offer high-quality, AI-related degrees.

Adapting to this anticipated growth will likely be a challenge for many educational institutions across the globe as the highly-specialized technical proficiency required to both teach and study AI-related degrees such as computer science, data science, mathematics, robotics physics, and electrical engineering is in drastically short supply.

Though, tangentially speaking, there are still some unexpected opportunities for universities willing to think outside the box – for example, there is also a rising demand for cognitive science students that have studied how AI systems can be designed to mimic the human brain. There is also a need for linguistic specialists who can adapt their skills to working with AI systems like natural language processing (NLP) which require a deep understanding of human language structure and use. Even philosophy graduates who focus on the ethical and social implications of AI are increasing needed as these technologies become more prevalent in society.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

In reality, so many more opportunities could be created to indirectly meet this demand as AI itself is fast-evolving and rapidly expanding to new areas. Universities that are able to build more holistic, adaptive approaches into their current degrees can arm promising, multi-skilled graduates with the ability to repurpose their skills into multiple career avenues to pursue successful careers in the AI sector (or even in the broader workforce with companies looking to expand their AI potential):  geography graduates are required for working AI-related projects dealing with geographic data analysis and mapping; agriculture graduates are increasingly needed where AI is used to optimize crop yields and improve food security; music graduates often work in AI-related field such as audio and speech recognition (think of your transcribing applications); political science graduates able to work with AI are incredibly useful where AI-systems are utilized to ensure political processes and voting systems are more accurate and transparent; and even art graduates can develop avenues for employment in AI-related fields requiring image and video recognition.

Opportunities for these graduates could, in fact, extend to many diverse sectors beyond technology companies including healthcare, finance, transportation, and education as AI has already exhibited a revolutionizing ability to transform workplaces, improve efficiency, and boost economic growth across countless industries.

Inevitably, universities across the board will need to start gearing their current degree offerings towards these AI-related fields whether it be offering new specialized degrees and courses catering for the high-demand, technology- and innovation-driven jobs of the future, or simply restructuring their current prospectuses to afford graduates a diverse range of opportunities to pursue successful careers using their artificial intelligence knowledge more broadly. Looking forward, as emerging technologies like AI increasingly start to displace more and more workers from the conventional workplace in the coming years, demand for retraining and reskilling will undoubtedly also skyrocket, and educational institutions should aim to stay ahead of that curve.

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