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There’s an academic AI shortage going on

  • Hope Reese

How will this impact the Pacific Northwest?

Interest in understanding AI is at an all-time high. Job listings are plentiful, many boasting high salaries, and the field seems poised only to grow. A 2018 report by the Canadian software provider Element AI, for instance, cited 144,000 AI-related job openings in the US, and only 26,000 developers and professionals searching for work. Yet the demand for an education in AI is far exceeding the supply,

A new report from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology highlights this discrepancy, measuring student interest in computer science (it was too difficult to measure for interest in AI, alone). The report’s authors point to the supply issue as a problem stemming from universities — many of which appear to have responded to the great interest by capping class enrollment and class sizes, rather than hiring new AI professors to meet the need.

The implications in the Pacific Northwest — home, of course, to Microsoft, Amazon, and many other big tech companies — are significant. According to the report, only 550 new undergraduates at the University of Washington will be granted admission to the new computer science and engineering school this year, out of more than 7,500 applicants.

This will have a big impact on how many students will later become eligible for open positions in AI technology. ReadAIA Seattle Times op-ed, for instance, observed that the region is “awarding computer-related degrees at less than half the rate the state’s tech companies are adding new positions — let alone filling openings for existing jobs.”

Students in search of an education in AI are starting to look beyond the university campus, as well. A plethora of online programs and bootcamps — many of which saw massive enrollment boosts during COVID-19 — have appealed to many who are looking for an alternative to the rising tuition across many colleges, and a more direct route to employment. Many of these are boot camps — offered by many employers, from Amazon to Udacity to IBM — some of which guarantee future employment.

Universities are historically reactive — not always on top of the latest trends, and somewhat slow to act. In the field of AI, universities could be well-served by thinking outside of the box — perhaps thinking more creatively about apprenticeships, or offering micro-credentials that could appeal to a larger cohort of students.

If the Pacific Northwest region continues to fail to provide enough resources to help its students become educated in AI, it not only means that current students may be forced to leave their home state in order to fulfill their educational aspirations. It also could have a negative impact on the tech companies themselves, that will be forced to recruit new hires from outside of the area. It could lead to bottlenecks both in industry and in academia, where the need to study the impacts and potential of AI is greater than ever.