Rush on artificial intelligence courses
Published on 18/06/2019 in Inspire
Flemish university courses on artificial intelligence are packed. At the KU Leuven, 259 students are enrolled in the AI master’s course, a rise of 50% compared to last year.
How come there is so much interest in AI courses?
Professor Daniel De Schreye, coordinator of the AI master’s program at KU Leuven: “One aspect is that AI has been in the news for three or four years now and attracts a lot of media attention.”
“At the same time, more and more companies, particularly the larger ones, are realizing that they are sitting on a mountain of data that is just begging to be used: analysis, image processing and marketing forecasts to name but a few. So many students come from the business world. Non-working students see this as a good investment in itself: graduates are virtually certain to get a job.”
Does the initiative for this course come from the business world or the academic world?
Daniel: “The academic world. The course has existed for over 30 years, but back then it was exclusively about doing research. However, we do have a capacity problem. Owing to the increased social importance of AI, we are offering the course to more and more people, but now we have really reached our limit.”
What are the students’ backgrounds?
Daniel: “Very varied, because AI can be applied in different areas. There are people from the financial world, economists and actuaries, for instance, who want to use AI for data analysis and data mining. Linguists are also well represented. Mechanics too, like people who work on vision systems for robots. And students from psychology, neurosciences and even law are taking the course.”
The AI hype is manifesting itself across the language border as well In the Frenchspeaking community of Belgium, at the University of Bergen, l’UMONS, they introduced a course called ‘Hands on AI’ in September of last year. On the one hand, the course is meant for master and PhD students in computer sciences. On the other it attracts working engineers and computer scientists. The university is working together with research institutes Numediart and InforTech.
Do you work much with the industry?
Daniel: “A third of our students work, so there is definitely a feel for company needs. Our lecturers – we have about 30 – also constantly set up projects with industrial partners, so we definitely have a lot of contact with businesses. However, it goes further than that: we are overwhelmed with requests from the industry, but we can’t meet them all. We have to be selective.”
Have Belgian companies yet sufficiently realized the importance of AI?
Daniel: “My gut feeling says yes, they have. For example, look at how the banks have embraced it: some Belgian banks have had data analysis departments for six or seven years now, for analytics, to measure marketing impact, to draw up investment profiles, to make investment predictions and more. The bigger companies definitely realize that they have to use AI.”
We give them an academic background, and companies offer them the experience. That’s where they will have to take a leap of faith.
Professor Daniel De Schreye, coordinator of the AI master’s program at KU Leuven
Do regulations and ethical issues slow Belgian companies down compared to American or Chinese competitors?
Daniel: “It’s true that there are some regulations on the ethics of AI as of yet, but that clearly doesn’t prevent development. I think that, above all, the far larger amount of money that China and the US are pumping into research has more impact than any concerns about AI. Flemish Minister for Innovation, Philippe Muyters, recently announced that we are going to put €40 to €50 million a year aside for this. That is definitely a good thing.”
Do you also notice more interest in foreign initiatives among your students, or do Belgian companies not have to worry about an exodus of all this talent?
Daniel: “About a third of the students are foreigners and they come from all over the world. We have one of the few complete AI programs in the world. There are around 10 or 15 of them, and ours is out in front. Afterwards, many of the students return home to work. Some Flemish students go abroad, but they are the real winners. They go to work at Google, for example.”
What advice would you give AI graduates before they meet their employer?
Daniel: “I don’t have to give them any more advice. The students are widely trained, in depth, and they have the skills to work with apps. What’s more, this is not a vocational course. It’s an academic course. We give them an academic background, and companies offer them the experience. That’s where they will have to take a leap of faith.”
Professor Daniel De Schreye was the coordinator of the AI master’s program at KU Leuven for 16 years. He is linked to the Computer Sciences Department and is a professor in the Engineering Sciences faculty. He has countless publications to his name on artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis.