For this ComputingEdge issue, we asked Vanderbilt University professor of computer science and computer engineering Douglas Fisher about career opportunities in artificial intelligence. Fisher also serves as director for outreach, education, diversity, and synthesis for CompSustNet, a US National Science Foundation–sponsored research network used to explore new directions in computational sustainability. He authored the article “Recent Advances in AI for Computational Sustainability” in IEEE Intelligent Systems’ July/August 2016 issue.
ComputingEdge: What careers in artificial intelligence will see the most growth during the next several years?
Fisher: Many AI jobs will be broadly concerned with designing and implementing automation. They’ll be distributed across many sectors, including retail, transportation, and healthcare. However, for the most part, they won’t be about full automation because experience suggests this is fraught with problems. Rather, integrating humans and AI to do tasks that were previously done by humans or AI alone is probably the future.
So, AI professionals will be working on teams with HCI (human-computer interaction) professionals, and it’s likely that expertise in this area will be a plus. The products they produce will include mobile devices, as well as intelligent personal assistants that work with, rather than frustrate, their owners.
Machine learning will also continue to be a dominant AI subfield for some time. And there is plenty of room to improve AI in games and both social and environmental simulations.
ComputingEdge: : What would you tell college students to give them an advantage over the competition?
Fisher: Students should think about their interests and passions. Students who are in computer science for “guaranteed” jobs may get work but not necessarily a career they love. Well-meaning but, I think, misguided faculty members sometimes promote computer science for its job potential, without considering other sources of motivation such as a love of technology or the possibility of advancing the social good.
Students should consider pairing their AI and computer-science interests with something else—perhaps a love of foreign languages and cultures, medicine and health, psychology, neuroscience, the law, journalism and writing, music, film, or other types of art. This can open students’ eyes to what’s possible in an AI career and make them more attractive to companies.
Internships are very important, too. These can include summer undergraduate research projects with faculty at their school or at another institution. Underclass students who don’t feel ready for full-blown computer-science internship might want to do something like teaching programming to kids at a summer camp. I think many companies appreciate a diversity of internship experience.
ComputingEdge: : What should applicants keep in mind when applying for artificial-intelligence-related jobs?
Fisher: Understand the job, including its requirements, obligations, and freedoms. Is AI the only necessary area of expertise? Will they be trained in other skills on the job?
ComputingEdge: : Name one critical mistake for young graduates to avoid when starting their careers?
Fisher: Don’t forget about the future—both an individual’s financial and family future, and a societal and environmental future that requires active contributions by people with brains, skills, and caring.
ComputingEdge: : Do you have any learning experiences you could share that could benefit those just starting out in their careers?
About Lori Cameron
ComputingEdge’s Lori Cameron interviewed Douglas Fisher for this article. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to a future ComputingEdge articles.