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Tech companies look to universities for talent in artificial intelligence

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Tech companies are pursuing artificial intelligence projects more than ever, and they’re looking at universities to recruit their new talent. 

According to Dinesh Manocha, a computer science professor at UNC, artificial intelligence is an old field that has been around for more than 50 years. However, he said in an email that recent technology breakthroughs have made new and exciting applications of AI a possibility. 

Manocha said these developments include increased voice recognition, automatic recognition of images and natural language processing. He said there is strong interest in developing personal robots that can perform daily chores at home, as well as semi-autonomous or autonomous cars.

According to Manocha, developments in AI and machine learning are what make products like Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Home and Google Voice work.

Morgan Vickery, a UNC junior computer science major, said in an email AI can go much further than just natural language processing — reaching into realms such as game development, education, finance, industry, medicine, costumer service and transportation. She said every industry and company can benefit from the incorporation of AI. 

“AI has the potential to improve company efficiency, lowers physical risk to workers, lower costs and create employment opportunities," Vickery said.

Manocha said the leading tech companies are short of talent in AI and related areas, and so they are heavily recruiting students with a strong background in this area. He said many professors are giving up their academic jobs to join the tech industry.

Luke Zettlemoyer, an AI professor at the University of Washington, is one professor who chose to turn down a job offer as a research scientist at Google. Instead, he will continue teaching AI and running a research group at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.  

He said in an email his current setup allows him to keep teaching and doing research with graduate students, which he enjoys. 

“It is true that some really great faculty will leave for industry — which is a shame for the students," Zettlemoyer said. “But it also provides new opportunities for others to get hired into faculty positions and drive the next round of innovative research and teaching.” 

Zettlemoyer said universities can really benefit from the industry's impact, such as students going on to get great jobs. 

According to Manocha, tech companies are already coming to UNC for AI talent.

“Many of our graduate students are heavily recruited and paid high six-digit packages,” he said.  “For example, six of my former PhD and postdocs are working in (the) Autonomous Car industry, including large companies such as Google/Waymo, Uber and many startups."

Vickery said she is seeking jobs related to virtual, mixed and augmented reality within serious games and game development. According to Vickery, serious games are those that are used to train and teach, such as the military simulating combat situations through virtual reality.

“Computer science is already a lucrative field of study, and the demand for engineers has skyrocketed," Vickery said. "There is such value in being technologically literate, and our society is so reliant on technology to simply function that it would be silly not to see the value in studying it."


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