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Mississippi State to offer artificial intelligence degree in the fall: Jobs for the future

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Many people might envision artificial intelligence as a character much like Ash in the original “Alien” movie or Hal in Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but AI is a lot more than what you see in the movies — and a lot less.

Are science fiction writers right? Will AI eventually replace humans?

“Not in our lifetime,” said Shahram Rahimi, Computer Science and Engineering professor and department chair at Mississippi State University.

MSU is now the first university in Mississippi to offer a degree in artificial intelligence, even though AI has been taught there and at other Mississippi universities for years.

The Institutions of Higher Learning approved the new Bachelor of Science program on May 18. It will be offered beginning in the fall through the computer science and engineering department and will require 120 credit hours for completion.

“What (artificial intelligence) is for us as educators is a set of tools for technology that provides solutions that we’ve never had before or that we had to do a lot of work to provide those solutions,” Rahimi said.

It comes at a time when technological advances are happening at a rapid pace, so it is becoming more important for students to learn how to teach computers to do certain tasks so humans can spend more time on creative problem-solving.

“If we look at the jobs for the future, I don’t know that there’s an industry sector, particularly where AI tools are not going to have an impact. Every company we’ve talked to is talking about this,” said Julie Jordan, vice president of Research and Economic Development at MSU. “Every company that we’ve talked to is looking for people that can build AI tools or can customize general tools like ChatGPT to fit their corporate environment.”

For example, in the medical field, teaching a computer to analyze data from a certain disease over time and getting the results to research scientists faster can help scientists develop a cure or treatment in far less time than they had in the past. Of course, this is already being done, not only in medicine but in a variety of other fields.

Artificial intelligence isn’t new. It’s been around since the 1950s. It’s recently become mainstream, however, with the launch of apps like ChatGPT, Google Assistant and even Amazon’s Alexa. If you use Excel spreadsheets to organize and analyze data, that too involves using AI.

For MSU, what is important now is teaching students how to design new or modify existing applications suit the needs of businesses around the world. But students in the program will learn much more than that, Rahimi said.

While the focus is on designing and developing systems that incorporate artificial intelligence, the degree itself will have limitless possibilities in just about every field. According to information provided to the IHL, starting salaries for those who earn degrees in the program start at roughly $100,000 per year or higher.

That includes jobs in retail, agriculture, finance, healthcare, automotive and entertainment. That’s just for starters.

The program will include courses in computer science, statistics and probability theory, dataanalytics, cognitive science, machine learning, robotics and ethics in AI, in addition to specialized electives.

“Every employer wants to figure out, ‘How do I upscale my existing workforce to take advantage of these tools to increase productivity,'” Jordan said. “So I think the new degree program in computer science and engineering is going to be developing a workforce that can build new large language models (and other) new machine-learning tools, while, across the rest of the campus, the strategy is how do we update all our curriculum to where it’s appropriate to actually begin to teach our students best practices around using the AI tools that are available.”

Students also will have the opportunity to have hands-on learning experiences and research opportunities to further prepare them for the competitive job market.

“The program also includes major components of cognitive science and humanities, ethics and mathematics,” Rahimi said.

While artificial intelligence is the newest technology to go mainstream, it isn’t exactly where it needs to be just yet. One area that can use a little improvement is the amount of energy it takes to produce large language models.

“Imagine how much heat and energy that would take to create the same thing you do with maybe taking a couple of bites of food,” Rahimi said.

Do you have a story to share? Contact Lici Beveridge at lbeveridge@gannett.com. Follow her on X  @licibev or Facebook at facebook.com/licibeveridge.

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