Universities told to prepare all students for AI-driven future

AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept. Communication network.

With artificial intelligence used increasingly across nearly all professional sectors, universities need to provide students with the opportunity to learn about AI and data science, from their most basic levels of application to deeper understandings of their development, so learners can apply that knowledge to future careers, education leaders said during a webinar Wednesday.

AI’s power has grown immensely over the last decade, and is helping researchers and industry leaders solve real-world problems, like climate change and health-care efficiency, Joseph Glover, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Florida said during a webinar hosted by video graphics company Nvidia. “[AI] is having a rapid and profound impact on many sectors of society,” Glover said, “so as a university, we are in the business of preparing students to go out into society, be successful, drive the interests of society and to prosper.”

At Florida, students are being prepared for an AI-driven future through new educational opportunities, including curriculum and research, and by communicating to students that an understanding of AI and data science are not solely important to computer science or engineering majors, he said.

Artificial intelligence, and its related fields of machine learning, natural language processing and neural networks, have important applications in all disciplines, David Richardson, dean of UF’s college of liberal arts and sciences, said.

Natural language processing has impact in humanities and culture fields, Richardson said, and fields like astronomy and physics produce massive databases that AI can analyze to help spot trends and meaningful data points. And because of AI’s interdisciplinary applications, it is critical to prepare students with a at least a basic understanding of the technology so they can succeed in their future careers and help drive innovation in their respective fields, he said.

But in order to make AI education available to all students, university leadership has to understand its importance and drive change from the top down, Glover said.

“It’s important to get buy-in at all levels of the university, including from the very top and maybe outside the university,” Glover said. “And then to put pedal to the metal…so that you are advantaging both the students in terms of their education, the faculty in terms of their research and the society in terms of the AI enabled workforce.”