To meet the growing demand for AI expertise, companies are offering online education courses to prepare the workforce for the future.
Increasingly, computers and devices learn and act on their own using software algorithms, the building blocks for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Getting smartphones to understand voice commands, smart home sprinkler systems to change with the weather and online services to predict what people want requires programmers skilled in AI and ML. Demand for these coding skills is skyrocketing.
Making devices smart and proactive remains controversial to anyone who fears that automation will lead to human job loss. Still, many people believe in the promise of AI and ML. Research firm Accenture analyzed 12 developed economies and found that AI has the potential to double their annual economic growth rates by 2035.
That potential is driving auto, banking, retail and other industries to explore and implement AI and ML into their businesses. It’s creating fierce competition for AI talent, according to Scott Apeland, director of Intel’s Developer Program.
“It’s an excellent time to get into this fast growing field,” said Apeland, who helps lead the Intel Nervana AI Academy, which provides AI training online and at hundreds of universities.
“The convergence of big data, compute power and neural networks has made AI a reality today and opened up a whole new world of possibilities,” said Apeland.
To meet the growing need for AI skills, online education service Coursera teamed up with Intel and Google to build courses that will empower people for future job opportunities.
“We think technology could take away about 800,000 jobs, but there’s an opportunity for 3.5 million new ones, and part of those will be filled by people who are reskilling,” said Lila Ibrahim, COO of Coursera. “It’s a net positive as long as we can provide the support to people to reskill and upskill people for jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago.”
She remembers a couple years ago, autonomous driving cars seemed like a radical idea.
“The first time we saw one driving around, we’d take a bunch of pictures,” she said. “Now we’re starting to accept a lot of things that once seemed like science fiction. We believe they will be part of our lives in the future.”
Coursera courses are available online and via a mobile app. Students can choose from specializations and degrees from 150 of the world’s top universities and educational institutions, including Stanford, Yale and Johns Hopkins universities.
“By September, we’ll have the broadest and deepest catalog of AI content,” said Ibrahim.
She believes it’s critical to quickly democratize access to AI education for everyone, including high school and college students as well as anyone interested in a new career in programming.
“If we can get the technology in the hands of the right people, great things are bound to happen,” Ibrahim said.
“All this data is out there, the technology is out there, the mindset is out there and now is the time to capitalize.”
Founded in 2012, Coursera already has over 26 million registered learners who have taken more than 2,000 courses in dozens of topics, including technology, data science, business and creative arts.
Ibrahim said building new AI courses is a natural fit for Coursera because AI and ML are in the company’s DNA. Its founders are AI and ML pioneers and the technology was used to build the company from the ground up.
Ibrahim said new courses will use AI to teach AI and ML. Classes automatically adjust to deliver more personalized training suited to a student’s performance.
“I missed a question on a quiz, and instead of telling me I missed it, the course actually gave me suggestions based on what I might have done wrong,” she said, describing an ML course she took. “It noticed I was really struggling with a concept, pointed me back to where I needed to go in the course and accelerated my advancement.”
She said people living anywhere with internet can now access the best educational content from top universities, research institutions or corporations.
“Making this content available to the entrepreneurs living in Brazil, Africa or Asia allows them build new skills to solve local problems,” said Ibrahim.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, 87 percent of workers believe it’s essential to receive training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace and technology.
The study stressed the importance of increasing access to educational programs to help people learn how to work with data and algorithms, to implement 3D modeling and work with 3D printers, and to apply the newly emerging capabilities in AI and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).
“My guess is there are things we can’t even imagine right now which AI will help us solve,” Ibrahim says. “It’s not until we give people the access to this learning that they can help discover and link the potential of what the data can tell us.”
New educational programs are providing more content and choices, whether it’s from universities or companies. The Intel Nervana AI Academy, which provides intermediate level AI courses for Coursera, also offers free workshops at hundreds of universities worldwide, recruiting and training student ambassadors to run AI meetups and workshops on campus.
Just as industrialization and electricity changed the way humans worked and lived 100 years ago, Apeland said AI could transform many aspects of our daily lives. Online education gives people the opportunity to get ahead of that curve and gain the knowledge necessary to become tomorrow’s innovators.
“There are so many opportunities to do new things,” said Apeland. “There will always be fear that technology is replacing jobs. Some jobs will go away, but I would expect a lot more will get created.”