BYU adds new machine learning degree for Fall 2023

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Lauren Woolley
Students work on computers. Students will have the opportunity to study machine learning in the Fall Semester of 2023. (Lauren Woolley)

Artificial intelligence has been buzzing around the internet for months. ChatGPT, OpenAI and other AI creations have made waves in the creative world, impacting millions of people as they change the way they interact with technology.

BYU has embraced the changes by offering a new machine learning degree for students interested in learning more about AI in Fall Semester of 2023.

According to the BYU Computer Science Department, the degree “is based on the previous emphasis in data science, but now has a stronger focus on machine learning.” Students will learn basic machine learning models while using real data and tools to understand the field as it develops.

David Wingate, an associate professor of computer science at BYU, said people do not need to be alarmed by the future that AI represents. While it is new and disrupting how people do business, he said people should not forget the positive ways AI impacts lives.

“We need to embrace that as a new reality and prepare students to work side by side with the algorithms,” Wingate said. “I am super excited about the new machine learning degree because I feel like this will simultaneously prepare students for high-impact jobs, as well as prepare them for further studies at the graduate level if they so choose,” Wingate said.

Tony Martinez, a professor of computer science at BYU, has worked in the AI field since 1982. Martinez said what most people consider AI to be is actually just machine learning. Computers are given vast amounts of data, shown solutions to hypothetical problems and learn from previous problems to solve new solutions.

Martinez said machines are not inherently smarter than humans, but they are much faster. He continued, saying how machines can perform “trillions of operations a second” while humans can only manage a few every minute.

Computers and machine learning algorithms are “simply tools that humans can use to solve problems faster,” according to Martinez.

“We’re one of the first universities to offer a degree in machine learning and want to be a pioneer in that,” Martinez said.

BYU senior Andrew Cohen minored in computer science. His first three years of schooling focused on biotechnology, and it was not until halfway through his junior year that he realized the potential of machine learning.

“I wish with all of my heart that I had been able to start earlier,” Cohen said. “The resources existed, I just didn’t know about them.”

Cohen said AI is a tool, and tools are meant to be used. He has used ChatGPT to help create lesson plans to teach himself different languages and help simplify difficult concepts in his university classes. Cohen believes machine learning will be part of the STEM curriculum within the next 10 years.

“I am excited about the growth of the industry and the pace at which it is growing,” Cohen said.

Wingate said the new degree is a chance for multiple departments at BYU to come together to embrace machine learning and data science. Students interested in learning more about the major can visit BYU’s undergraduate catalog.

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