There is a real demand for AI professionals, says Neil Jacobstein of Singularity University
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Tech people with good intra-disciplinary background, like in ethics and critical thinking, combined with a specialty in AI or data science, will be sought after, says Jacobstein

Diksha Gupta, TechGig.com

It isn’t just about self-driven cars or spaceships anymore. Artificial intelligence and robotics have started influencing our lives in many more ways. The best is that the field is offering some lucrative jobs too. 

TechGig.com spoke to Neil Jacobstein, Artificial Intelligence & Robotics Co-Chair at Singularity University, while he recently visited India, and explored how AI can be explored as a career choice. Read on…

What is your take on the scenario of robotics and AI in India?

Our track is actually called AIM robotics for a good reason because robotics depends on AI for analysing sensor data and planning and execution. Specifically with regard to India, I think it will be the key going forward to help India be more productive, both as a country and also for Indian citizens individually. The combination of good business practices, AI robotics and humans is the key to high productivity. AI alone or robots alone will not help that much. If you combine those three in really creative ways, you can get extraordinarily high productivity. India is listed as one of the top countries which is at risk for having large numbers of people's jobs automated because they are doing routine work. The way Singularity University and INK can help people in India is to get access to advanced education, often for free, on the web and to use that formula of AI’s and robots plus people plus good business practices and vastly increase the productivity both, of the companies and the individuals, so they can be more competitive on the world stage.AI is there in a lot of places. From Google cars to space. What are the various sectors in which you see artificial intelligence venturing going forward?

We are beginning to see AI play a major role in healthcare, not just in diagnosis but also in treatment planning, in drug re-purposing, et al. We are seeing AI being used in public health for tracking pandemic disease and helping to prevent pandemic disease and respond to it. AI is also being used in disaster response. So across the board, in healthcare we are seeing AI play a major role. 

We are also seeing AI playing a major role in transportation in the self-driving car, in improving the productivity of manufacturing and making light industrial robots like rethink robotics, backster robot, that are easier to use and program. We are seeing AI used in science in a variety of ways, both in planning, experiments and analyzing data. So, I would say, that AI is used in virtually every field of human endeavour. We understand that AI will amplify human capabilities and lead to enormous productivity and wealth creation. 

How do you see the IT industry in particular leveraging AI this year?  

The IT industry contributes to AI majorly by providing cloud-based platforms that AI applications are hosted on. It also helps in creating various versions of languages that AI is hosted on like python and cafe, R programming language and then we see IT people involved in building AI platforms like Watson, Sentient and VIV. So at every level from hardware and software, fabrics in the cloud to languages that AI applications are written in to graphical user interfaces to problem solving application platforms, the IT industry is moving forward even if they are not directly in AI. 

Let’s now move the focus to talent or the skills that are needed to become an AI professional. Is there enough talent for this in developing markets such as India?

I think that there is a real demand for AI professionals and data scientists and really beyond that, there is a demand for people who are great problem solvers and people who can frame new questions and be creative and think critically. 

So in terms of what people should be studying, I think that the key thing is to get a very good intra-disciplinary background, not just the multi-disciplinary background in science, math and computing. A background in ethics and in critical thinking would be great and if that is combined with a specialty in AI or data science, I think one will be in a position to be in demand all over the world in India and elsewhere. 

Speaking about the skill sets required, what would be the certifications available so as to qualify as an AI specialist? Are these certifications really helpful in grabbing a job?

I think it depends on where you are. If you are applying for a job at Google, it's a much more broad evaluation process, much more self- creative and ill-defined, although they do use machine algorithms to make selections. I think that certifications can help but they are not the whole story. 

They tend to trap people into very narrow areas of programming and AI, but I think it is important to be competent in statistics and data science and the basics of AI. If you look at Coursera or Udacity, they have various certifications in AI and I think taking some of those courses would be helpful MIT also has courses available for free online.

Speaking of courses, does Singularity University have any courses in this particular domain, which say an Indian student can apply for?

We actually assume that people are going to come to us from more traditional colleges and graduate programmes. We don’t try to provide that kind of training. We tend to provide a post-graduate kind of training and I think that there are other places where you can get the traditional skills and we encourage people to make use of those first

So basically it plays the role of a facilitator?

We encourage people to take those skills and apply them to grand challenge problems and to creating innovative new companies and non-profits that can address both grand-challenge problems and big business opportunities. We challenge our students to improve the quality of life of people (at least a billion) within 10 years. So that is a big challenge and you need to come to that challenge with lots of skills.

diksha.gupta@timesgroup.com