Artificial Intelligence

Can I Earn a Master’s in Artificial Intelligence Online?

Can I Earn a Master’s in Artificial Intelligence Online?
Getting a leg up in this demanding and rapidly expanding industry is crucial. But how do you balance the demands of a master's degree program with your busy career? Image from Pexels
Ginny Bartolone profile
Ginny Bartolone November 4, 2021

Every day, we use technology that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI)--it’s ubiquitous. If you’re looking to enter or advance in this ever-expanding field, earning an online master’s in AI could be your ticket to a very rewarding career.

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As recently as the turn of the millennium, technologies now in daily use seemed as improbable as flying cars and friendly household robots. Imagine telling your childhood self that you can simply ask your virtual assistant to play your favorite songs or order groceries (or anything else) on the internet—or use your smartphone as a translator to have a real-time conversation in another language with someone else. We’ve come a long way since Clippy!

In fact, even top artificial intelligence (AI) academics are shocked at how quickly the technology has advanced and spread. “The AI community has not yet adjusted to the fact that we are now starting to have a really big impact in the real world,” Professor Stuart Russell of the University of California at Berkeley told The Guardian.

Artificial intelligence can accurately diagnose illnesses, correctly select the movies we’ll actually want to watch, and even determine where we should work. Getting a leg up in this demanding and rapidly expanding industry is crucial. But how do you balance the demands of a master’s degree program with your busy career?

Online AI graduate programs are common and cater to everyone from part-time, mid-career professionals to international students looking to study from their home countries. A computer science master’s degree can open doors to your desired specialization (e.g., AI), as well as boost your earning potential. PayScale notes that grads with a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence make $15,000 more a year than those with just a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree.

What do you need to know about an online AI master’s program? In this article, we’ll answer:

  • What is artificial intelligence?
  • Career paths in artificial intelligence
  • Do I need a master’s to work in artificial intelligence?
  • Top online artificial intelligence master’s programs
  • What is an artificial intelligence master’s?
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What is artificial intelligence?

On a basic level, artificial intelligence is a computer’s ability to imitate human behavior, and improve its own learning and decision-making skills. The AI field has many layers, from basic data science organization to the study of deep learning—how a computer uses algorithms to process memories.

AI typically breaks into either weak and strong AI. We encounter weak AI in our everyday lives, from talking to Siri (which uses natural language processing to transform what you’re saying into text) to using our faces to unlock a smartphone (which utilizes computer vision to recognize an image). AI also organizes big data, manages supply chain automation, and even teaches a computer to play us in chess. Despite its name, there’s nothing weak about the technology at all. In fact, it applies to almost all of the AI tech we have today.

Strong AI, also known as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), refers to computers that are as smart as humans. But before you start experiencing flashbacks to the film Ex Machina, don’t worry; AGI is still in the realm of science fiction, and may remain that way. The study of AGI, however, sparks exciting ongoing research, crucial discussions on government regulations, and new uses for our current computation abilities.

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“I'm Interested in A.I. & Machine Learning!”

The tech industry is known for welcoming those with significant hands-on experience. Plus, the demand for AI professionals is rapidly increasing. Many AI job postings you’ll spot today will only require an undergrad degree and a list of specific required skills. However, when you browse highly sought-after positions at well-known firms, the jobs often require a graduate degree (PhD or computer science master’s). If you’re looking for high-paying positions in the field, a master’s is crucial. (source)

The earning potential for these roles typically soars past the six-figure mark. The median salary of an AI engineer, for example, is $164,800. A University of San Diego salary chart lists other six-figure AI-related positions, including data scientists (who earn $127,000), research scientists ($111,000), and big data engineers ($131,000). (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

Career paths in artificial intelligence

One of the best things about the AI industry is how many people it welcomes to the table. Clearly programmers and software engineers will find opportunities here, but the enterprise creates many other essential roles as well.

The University of San Diego notes that AI programs are seeking candidates with a knack for problem-solving, data analytics, user experience, and of course, working knowledge of Python or other programming languages.

Once you graduate, you’ll be able to find work on the business development end aligning a company’s profit goals with AI technology. Or you might manage a team with project management skills—or even go the research route and advance the limits of AI and machine learning.

Which industries need artificial intelligence experts?

When you take a look at artificial intelligence master’s programs, their specialization options offer a window into which industries are hiring AI experts. For example, Stevens Institute of Technology offers concentrations in everything from biomedical engineering to mechanical engineering. Let’s take a look at the top three AI industries.

Cyber security

With the alarming uptick in cyber security attacks on both government and private sector assets, artificial intelligence professionals are in high-demand to support cyber security experts (which are in very short supply) by automating lower-priority tasks and freeing them up to address high-level cyber security matters. As Angelica Grillo notes in Infosecurity Magazine, “Cyber security professionals, on the whole, believe AI and ML can help, especially by automating repetitive tasks. This will give them the time to expand our experience and analytical skills to make a real difference rather than firefighting. In addition, the use of AI and ML can help improve security by increasing the volume of data that can be analyzed — a particularly powerful tool in threat detection. This would undoubtedly reduce the likelihood and impact of a cyber event. AI and ML, deployed correctly, will uncover more security vulnerabilities and identify live threats faster than any human can.”

Biotech and healthcare

Diagnosing and treating an illness often comes down to detecting patterns. If a computer can detect these threads in datasets more quickly and accurately than the human mind, it can support the work of doctors in the care of their patients.

Language processing

Many of the most popular programs and apps today depend on natural language processing. You use it when you talk to your smart home system, learn a new language on Duolingo, or even when interacting with a customer service bot.

In several decades, it may be hard to find an industry that doesn’t utilize AI. Self-driving cars, food delivery apps, and even higher education websites use some level of AI to help respond to the needs of their users.

Who’s hiring and how much can I earn?

Many people worry that AI will replace roles traditionally held by human beings, but some argue that AI creates more jobs than it destroys. For instance, machine learning engineers will still need to on supporting and developing intelligent systems for decades to come, maybe even forever.

As of late 2021, some of the top companies hiring AI experts included Accenture, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, and Wells Fargo. The earning potential for these roles typically soars past the six-figure mark. The median salary of an AI engineer, for example, is $164,800. The University of San Diego lists other six-figure AI-related positions, including data scientists (who earn $127,000), research scientists ($111,000), and big data engineers ($131,000).

Do I need a master’s to work in artificial intelligence?

The information technology and programming world is known for welcoming those with significant hands-on experience in lieu of an advanced degree. On top of this, the demand for AI professionals is rapidly increasing. In other words, many AI job postings you’ll spot today will only require an undergrad degree and a list of specific required skills.

However, if you take a look at some of the highly sought-after positions at well-known companies, the jobs often require either a PhD or computer science master’s. So if you’re looking to advance to high-paying positions in the field, a master’s is crucial.

Today’s master’s degree programs endeavor to provide students with an edge over those who simply have industry experience coding or interpreting data. In-person and online degrees help their students to cultivate real-world problem-solving skills; impart a broader range of programming languages and skills in both core courses and electives; and develop the necessary related business acumen. The connections that these students will establish with their peers, working professionals, and ongoing research projects don’t hurt either.

Top online artificial intelligence master’s programs

If you’re investing in a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence, look for a program tailored to your career needs and goals. An online graduate degree should offer your desired specialization, hands-on experience, and most importantly, access to cutting-edge tech, even without being on campus. Here are some standout programs offered online.

Drexel University

One of the things we like best about Drexel’s online master’s program is its numerous specialization options. Students can earn an MS by stacking multiple graduate certificates within their field. The school even offers dual-degree programs in MS in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and any other computing and informatics program.

Johns Hopkins University

As one of the top-rated universities in the country, Johns Hopkins offers an online master’s out of their applied physics lab. Students can choose up to six elective courses to specialize their studies. Elective online courses include Applied Game Theory, Integrating Humans and Technology, and UAV systems control. In addition, online master’s candidates have access to faculty members working at the top of the AI field.

Southern Methodist University

Southern Methodist offers a highly interactive online learning program. Students can earn an MS in Computer Science with a specialization in artificial intelligence. The curriculum is highly specialized, including everything from core courses in Python and in-depth electives in areas like data mining, neural networks, and storage retrieval.

Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens has won multiple awards for its engineering programs and boasts that it offers one of the first AI and engineering cross-disciplinary graduate programs in the world. Graduates have gone on to pursue careers as machine learning engineers, data scientists, and in R&D in companies like Google, Comcast, and Microsoft.

What is an artificial intelligence master’s?

Artificial intelligence master’s programs are offered either part or full-time both online and in person. The degree typically falls under a Master’s of Science with a specialization in AI or machine learning.

Many schools encourage students to choose a specific concentration within their field. This may include business, medicine, engineering, or data, among many others.

How long does it take to earn an artificial intelligence master’s online?

Online master’s programs typically cater to working professionals, so their coursework can be completed on a part-time basis in three years or more. Having said that, if a student wants to earn their degree at a more accelerated pace, they can finish within two years.

Admission requirements and prerequisites

Most programs expect their applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in an area related to AI—typically computer science or software engineering. Some programs also will open admissions to those with specific STEM-related courses paired with real-world experience.

Application packets typically require a personal essay, letters of recommendation, a professional resume, and transcripts from your undergrad program. You may be required to have a minimum GPA as well. GRE and GMAT scores are frequently required but may be waived if you have accumulated a number of professional years in the field.

Curriculum

Start your search by purusing the list of courses offered by each AI program. Each school’s course offerings vary significantly.

Most AI core coursework covers Python and other language learning, algorithms, and an intro to modern machine learning. Students then branch off into topics revolving around robotics, engineering, mechanics, data science, language processing, and ethical dilemmas in AI.

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Specialization

While we’ve mentioned it previously, it bears repeating: choosing a specialty in AI can be very helpful for your career. Machine learning covers such a wide breadth of technology and will only keep expanding as the field advances.

Opt for programs that focus on software engineering, business and data analytics, bioengineering, medicine, AI design and research, or electrical engineering. Develop your cloud architectural skills or dive deeply into knowledge representation.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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