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Will Tufts follow in other universities’ footsteps with an AI major?

In February, the University of Pennsylvania announced it will begin offering an artificial intelligence major, open for enrollment in fall 2024. The major will be offered through Penn’s School of Engineering. Several other universities have announced AI-specific degree programs in recent years; MIT began offering one in fall 2022 and Carnegie Mellon has had one since fall 2018. Although Tufts computer science students have the option of focusing their studies on AI, Tufts currently does not offer an AI-specific degree program, but that could change in the future, according to Kyongbum Lee, dean of the School of Engineering. When developing new AI-based courses, he hopes to focus on ethics in computing and “how to make AI curriculum more accessible” to all students, rather than just those pursuing math-based degrees.

There is definite interest in an AI degree program among current Tufts students. Computer science major Sammy Kao said that he would absolutely have pursued an AI major alongside his current degree if possible, because “AI and computer science are pretty intertwined. … So I think the AI degree program would be a mix of both, with a few more theoretical classes.”

AI has become increasingly relevant in nearly every industry, not just computer science and engineering. Computer science professor Matthias Scheutz, who focuses on artificial intelligence, believes that “being at AI savvy has become a necessary part of any education.”

“I would think that anybody who comes out of school with a college degree needs to have some sort of AI proficiency, at least at the conceptual level,” Scheutz said.

The use of AI has recently been a hot-button issue in many fields. AI played a major role in the Writers Guild of America’s strike, which ultimately ended in a contract ensuring that studios cannot use AI to write scripts or generate “source material” for a project.

However, AI has also been praised for its uses in other fields, such as medicine. Seema Kumar, CEO of healthcare innovation campus Cure, highlighted a slew of AI health solutions under exploration by entrepreneurs — including “a robotic arm that can produce and send ultrasound images to specialists anywhere in the world,” “a service that provides AI social workers that can simplify scheduling wellness visits and health screenings for low-income families while enrolling them in assistance programs” and “AI-facilitated cardiovascular health screenings in trusted community spaces for Black patients,” among others.

The field of artificial intelligence is rapidly evolving, which means AI education does not end with an undergraduate degree, regardless of the degree program.

“Tufts tries to teach the foundational work,” Kao said. “Once you graduate you’re going to have to learn a lot of new things on your own, just because the field is rapidly evolving and these companies are coming out with new techniques by the week.”

The engineering school has introduced several new AI-focused courses in recent years and hopes to introduce more in the future.

“One course that we don’t have right now, that we would really like to have, is a course on large language models that specifically focuses on the technical aspects of large language, or foundation models, as they’re called,” Scheutz said.

Large language models can understand and generate natural language — ChatGPT is a popular example.

Kao agreed that he would like to see a large language model class at Tufts.

“They definitely should offer a generative AI class, or something with large language models or transformers,” Kao said. “If Tufts ever did have a class like that, it’d be a pretty big pull within the program.”

While Scheutz acknowledged that AI is an ever changing field, he said that much of the technology has been around for a while.

“The technology that is being used in AI — for example, the math that underlies deep neural networks — that is not that new,” he said.

Nevertheless, Tufts continues to update courses to reflect changes in the industry.

“I teach a course in AI ethics,” Scheutz said, “and last fall for the first time we offered an undergrad-only version of it. We completely redesigned that course. We really started from scratch with the latest aspects of AI ethics and robot ethics, using examples from the recent past. For example, how systems fail, what happens when systems fail and the ethical challenges that come up.”

Though Tufts has not announced any specific plans for an AI degree program at this point, Scheutz imagines that AI-focused programs will become more common in the coming years.

“Some of them will be areas of specialization in computer science, the way we’ve done it so far at Tufts,” he said, “but there will be standalone programs, and there will be other programs that are more geared towards connecting with other fields: ‘AI plus medicine’ or ‘AI plus diagnostics’ or ‘AI plus drug discovery.’ … Those kinds of degrees would be potentially very interesting for people who want to work at the exact intersection of using that technology in that application area.”

Originally Appeared Here

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