UTA Starts AI Master’s Program


An image of a computer | Image by Dzenina Lukac/Pexels.

The University of Texas at Austin (UTA) is one of the first elite computing schools to start a large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) Master of Science program.

The school announced the new degree program on January 26. It is expected to be an online, low-cost initiative.

AI has been growing rapidly, propelled by recent news stories highlighting different applications of AI tech to generate art and texts that appear almost manmade. The Dallas Express reported just last week that a chatbot had passed an exam at Wharton Business School.

Of course, not everyone is blown away by the possibilities of these advanced machines.

Lauren Hill, a student at the nearby University of Dallas majoring in printmaking, spoke to The Dallas Express about her reservations as an artist regarding AI.

“Not every job can be replaced by AI,” she remarked.

She continued on to say that there are still “some things that humans just do better,” particularly when it comes to possessing the creativity to make art, for instance.

University of Dallas computer science professor Erick Chastain told The Dallas Express that AI is definitely good for improving safety at repetitive tasks that are prone to human error, “increasing security and saving lives.”

On the other hand, Chastain also expressed his hesitancy about AI, specifically the tendency to anthropomorphize it, meaning that people could come to think that AIs have sentience as well as human intelligence.

“Ascribing sentience to AIs may make people think erroneously that we ourselves are machines,” claimed Chastain.

UTA’s new AI program aims to grapple with these questions by housing an interdisciplinary faculty, The New York Times reported; while tenure-track professors from the university’s computer science department will run the program, faculty from the research program Good Systems will join them to help focus on developing AI tools that are socially responsible.

Peter Stone, a computer science professor at UTA, teaches a course in ethical robotics and is very focused on ensuring that students “reflect on the possible benefits and possible harms of the technologies they are learning about,” he told the NYT.

Alongside this training in ethics to make sure that students going into the AI field are aware of the societal implications of what they develop, courses will include machine learning, AI in health, and natural language processing.

The degree program will charge a total of around $10,000 in tuition, which is highly competitive; for comparison, Johns Hopkins University is offering a similar program at a cost of over $45,000.

The National Science Foundation contributed to funding for UTA’s program when it awarded the university a five-year, $20 million grant in 2020 to establish an AI institute in machine learning.

Applications for the AI master’s program will open this June with the goal of enrolling 2,000 students every year, Don Fussell, chair of the computer science department at UTA, told the NYT.

Fussell said that potential students should already have an undergraduate degree in a technical field, such as computer science, engineering, or computing.

He also sees great relevance in the new program, as he anticipates “a shift among a lot of people from general computer science and tech backgrounds to AI” in the near future.

This seems especially possible in light of the recent layoffs occurring at big tech firms like Google, Microsoft, and Spotify.

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