Main image of article Student Interest in A.I., Machine Learning is Accelerating

Across the U.S., more and more students are enrolling in introductory A.I. and machine learning classes, according to The A.I. Index 2019 Annual Report (PDF) produced by Stanford University. That’s good news for students everywhere, because it means that more schools will inevitably begin offering this sort of coursework. 

It’s also good for employers desperate for A.I. and machine learning specialists, because it means that pool of talent will likely expand over the next few years as these students enter the workforce.

At Stanford itself, enrollment in the school’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course has grown “fivefold” between 2012 and 2018, according to the report. That’s not even the most rapid uptake: At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an “Introduction to Machine Learning” course grew twelvefold between 2010 and 2018, with the largest part of that spike occurring after 2015.

Self-directed online learning in A.I.-related subjects has also picked up; the report draws information from Udacity, one of those online learning platforms, which found rising enrollment in five A.I./machine learning classes over the past two years.

As you might expect, the number of PhD students specializing in A.I. and machine learning has also accelerated over the past few years. “AI is the most popular PhD specialization for computing PhD grads and continues growing the fastest,” the report adds. “In 2018, over 21 percent of graduating computing PhDs specialize in Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning.”

Moreover, many of these PhD grads are going directly to private companies, rather than staying in academia: “The percent of graduating AI PhDs going to industry increased from 21% in 2004 to over 62% in 2018.” 

And why wouldn’t a hefty portion of newly minted PhDs move to the commercial realm, given the salaries and perks on offer to those A.I. and machine learning experts with the right mix of skills? For example, LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report (PDF) puts “Artificial Intelligence Specialist” as its number-one emerging job, with 74 percent annual growth over the past four years.

A.I. jobs are, as you might expect, pretty lucrative and increasingly available. Burning Glass, which analyzes millions of job postings from across the U.S., projects that jobs involving A.I. will grow 40.1 percent over the next decade. While the median salary for these positions is $105,007 (for those with a PhD, it drifts up to $112,300), many who work in A.I. obviously make much more. 

As A.I. and machine learning become more ubiquitous, the need for A.I. education will only increase. No matter what your role, getting familiar with the concepts behind A.I./ML will only help you in the years ahead. “Our analysis shows that A.I. will be a significant factor in the future work lives of relatively well-paid managers, supervisors, and analysts,” read a recent report from the Brookings Institution on the impact of A.I. on jobs. “Also exposed are factory workers, who are increasingly well-educated in many occupations as well as heavily involved with A.I. on the shop floor. A.I. may be much less of a factor in the work of most lower-paid service workers.”