Not long ago, artificial intelligence was a concept straight out of science fiction. But in the last few years, machine learning breakthroughs have sped up the pace of technological advancement, transforming every aspect of our lives. Complex functions once thought to be outside the realm of possibility — think autonomous vehicles, facial recognition software, hyper-realistic robots — now barely register in the news as the pace of discovery continually accelerates. Likewise for the effect of AI on the world of business: So much is happening, so fast, that it’s nearly impossible to keep up.
Enter Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, which has announced the launch this fall of North America’s first master’s degree in AI management. The 12-month program, to be taught by Smith faculty and adjunct faculty from the Toronto-based Vector Institute, is designed to position graduates at the intersection of business and technology, where AI and machine learning meet modern business applications. Along the way they’ll undertake an inquiry into the ethical implications of AI in business decision-making.
Advanced analytics, data science, fintech — these have been the “degrees du jour” for a few years now. AI management is the new, exciting frontier, says Stephen Thomas, academic director of Queen’s new Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence.
“In December we had an advisory board meeting for our MMA (Master of Management Analytics) program, a board made up of top industry professionals from all the major businesses in Toronto,” Thomas tells Poets&Quants. “Everyone said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do something in AI, you have to launch a program in AI.’ So we took a look, and we felt the demand was there.”
A FIELD WITH EXTRAORDINARY POTENTIAL
Queen’s is breaking new ground with its foray into AI management: No other North American school currently offers such a degree, though there are a few business schools in Europe that have similar programs: Italy’s Bologna Business School offers a Master in Digital Technology Management in Artificial Intelligence, for example, while Utrecht University offers a Master in Artificial Intelligence.
The potential, Thomas notes, is extraordinary. With AI comes the power to transform operations, customer experiences, and product and service design exponentially, across every sector. Professionals seeking to harness AI’s potential will need to not only understand the capacity of the science, but possess the expertise to apply it to organizational needs and strategies — while navigating the technology’s ethical, economic, and societal implications.
This, Thomas says, is what the new Queen’s degree will teach, along with training in creating and maintaining high-performance work teams.
“There is a huge shortage — and a growing shortage — for business managers that can understand AI and apply it to business outcomes,” says Thomas, who is also an adjunct assistant professor at the Smith School. “And AI in general is growing. We’ve got a report from the jobs website Indeed.com that says AI and machine learning job opportunities are up 500% since June 2015, and up 200% in the last 18 months.”
‘FIVE, SIX YEARS AGO THERE WEREN’T JOBS WITH “ANALYTICS” IN THE TITLE’
Through five modules, the Queen’s AI master’s program will offer such courses as Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, AI in Marketing, AI in Finance, and Reinforcement Learning and Applications. Three week-long residential sessions in Kingston and Toronto will include intensive study in such subjects as Mathematics and Development Techniques for AI, AI Ethics and Policy, and AI Innovation & Entrepreneurship, while a four-month capstone will task students with applying what they’ve learned in a real-world setting, helping a real company. “Students will get a mix of business and technical courses,” Thomas says. “They’ll spend eight months doing coursework and the last four months on the capstone project.”
The program will launch in September and be delivered on a part-time basis, with classes on Tuesdays and alternate Saturdays; applications are open now. There is no hard deadline, Thomas says — if the class fills up, qualified students will be waitlisted for the next year’s program. The school is looking for a class of around 40, though there won’t be a hard cap, he says — quality will be more important than quantity. Applicants will need a set of prerequisites that include a minimum 650 on the GMAT and an undergraduate degree in mathematics, business, computer science, economics, engineering, or science. Cost of the program is $59,900 (US$46,663) for domestic students and $79,900 (US$62,243) for international students.
“We like to be innovators, and we don’t mind a little bit of risk,” Thomas says. “We feel strongly that the need is there, and we already got a pretty impressive response to the launch, which is encouraging as an indication of interest. Look at it this way, five, six years ago there weren’t a lot of jobs out there with the word ‘analytics’ in the title, but we launched our MMA anyway — and now there are a lot of jobs with the words analytics. And I think the same is going to happen with AI in the next five years.”
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