Artificial Intelligence


Mar 04, 2006 Print Article

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the science of making intelligent machines and addresses the challenges of having machines find solutions to complex problems in a human-like fashion. The field of AI, like the careers it produces, is diverse, fragmented and difficult to identify comprehensively. This fragmentation is due in part to the absence of a unifying theory for AI. The field is governed by multiple theories of the way humans think and the best way to represent this process in an intelligent system. As a consequence, there are multiple approaches, tools and contexts in which they are applied.

An intelligent system deals with real world environments where often only imprecise and incomplete information is available. These systems can be applied in a number of fields including military applications such as target identification, in entertainment such as digital games and robotic pets and in business where banks, hospitals, and insurance companies and other organizations that collect vast amounts of data, use AI to predict consumer behavior.

Employability

All job categories in information technology and computer science are potentially open to students with AI backgrounds. Job titles include systems analyst, systems programmer, systems designer and software developer. Information technology and computer science professionals with AI backgrounds are especially sought by companies that develop operating systems, expert systems, telecommunication systems and control systems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of computer programmers held a college or higher degree in 2004.1 A review of online job sites revealed that job openings that specify artificial intelligence backgrounds overwhelmingly require advanced graduate training, frequently at the doctoral level. In one job posting, a Ph.D. in an AI related field was considered the equivalent of ten years of post-masters degree experience.

Due to the education requirements and high degree of specialization, AI-related jobs are well compensated with salaries for senior developers ranging from $90,000 to $200,000. Entry level AI programmers with four-year degrees start at $50,000 and reach $70,000 to $80,000 after a couple of years.

AI jobs cover a number of fields but entry-level tasks in any given field may include equipment programming, product testing, execution of technical projects, recordkeeping, research, engineering tasks, information management and development of software programs.

Skill Sets

Knowledge

The principle knowledge of an AI professional is an understanding of how humans learn, structure and use knowledge including:

  • Knowledge representation in terms of the design of data structures and their semantic interpretation.
  • Knowledge inference in terms of how data is used to solve problems in appropriately identifying alternative solutions and problem solving solutions.
  • Knowledge acquisition in terms to transforming tacit human knowledge into a codified form.

Skills

The applications for AI knowledge are diverse but the general areas in which AI professionals are skilled fall into a few general categories:

  • Expert systems are software programs comprised of a set of rules that analyze information about a specific class of problems, as well as provide analysis of the problems and propose a solution alternative and a course of action in order to implement corrections.
  • Machine learning is an area of AI concerned with the development of techniques that allow computers to “learn.” Machine learning draws heavily upon statistical analysis but, unlike statistics, machine learning is concerned with induction algorithms, methods designed to make the computer improve performance over time on the basis of past performance.
  • Natural language processing is a subfield of AI related to linguistics. Natural language processing systems convert information from computer databases into human language and convert human language into more formal instruction that are easier for computer programs to manipulate.
  • Vision and robotics is a subfield of AI concerned with the automatic interpretation and action of machines of digital images or sensory information of real world scenes.
  • Neural networks refer to a an interconnected network of artificial “neurons” or computer processing units. These networks are designed to model some properties of biological neural networks.

All of these application areas require study in math, physics, computer science, engineering and cognitive science. Specific programming languages/tools include Java, C/C++, Lisp, Python and Prolog.

Abilities – Designing and installing AI systems or AI components of information systems. Analyze potential application to determine if AI system could fulfill a purpose and how that purpose can best be achieved. Design AI components of information system to a given specification. Good communication skills, ability to work within a team, problem solving skills and to keep up with a rapidly evolving field through independent study. Military and defense-related positions frequently require security clearance.

Trends and Timing

AI used to be solely the purview of Ph.Ds. As the field of AI continues to evolve and formalize barriers to entry are reduced. Jobs are increasingly available to candidates with four-year degrees. When advances in AI will lead to job opportunities requiring less formal education is uncertain.

Relevance

In December 2005, Pellissippi State Technical Community College, Knoxville, Tennessee, inaugurated an introduction to artificial intelligence course as part of its computer science curriculum. The course covers robotics, neural networks and evolutionary hardware. The rational for offering the course is that “Today´s computer programmers will likely become the neural network technicians of the future.”2

Big Bend Community College, Moses Lake, Washington, offers a course in artificial intelligence as part of its computer science curriculum; however, it is only mentioned in the context of guiding students who wish to transfer to four-year institutions to receive bachelors degrees. The suggested computer science courses for students interested in certificates or two-year degrees do not include artificial intelligence explicitly.

Texas State Technical College Waco and Harlingen campuses offer two courses in artificial intelligence programming as part of the gaming and simulation specialization in computer science. According to the WECM, course goals are “knowledge representation and interference techniques, expert systems, pathfinding algorithms and search techniques for problem solving.”

AI has a very limited presence in community college curricula. However, there are approximately 120 universities in North America that have AI research programs and associated curricula.

Key Performance Indicators

Recommendation: Continue Tracking
As the AI job market evolves and AI systems are integrated into more processes and products, potential job opportunities for technician employment may emerge.

Jobs: Not Promising
Most employers specify a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree, in some cases with strong preferences for postgraduate work.

Trends: Inconclusive
AI used to be solely the purview of Ph.Ds. As the field of AI continues to evolve and formalize barriers to entry are reduced. Jobs are increasingly available to candidates with four-year degrees.

Timing: Unclear
When advances in AI will lead to job opportunities requiring less formal education is uncertain.

CTC Relevance: Increasing
A handful of community and technical colleges have incorporated AI courses into computer science or game development AAS degrees.

Transportability: Limited
AI applications are currently somewhat limited.

  1. Occupational Outlook Handbook 2006-2007. (2005) Bureau of Labor Statistics. www.bls.gov/oco/ocos110.htm
  2. Pellissippi State adds Artificial Intelligence to Computer Science Courses. www.pstcc.edu/community_relations/events/05/aics05.html
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