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Students can soon major in AI at this Ivy League university—it'll prepare them for 'jobs that don't yet exist'

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Getting your bachelor's degree at the University of Pennsylvania makes you statistically likely to earn a higher salary than many other schools. Penn, along with most of the other Ivy League institutions, routinely ranks among the colleges with the highest-paid graduates

But a new major could open the door for Penn grads to go into even more jobs that command high salaries. The university announced this week it is launching a bachelor of science in engineering in artificial intelligence in time for the fall 2024 semester. 

The Raj and Neera Singh Program in Artificial Intelligence is the first undergraduate major of its kind at any Ivy League school, and one of the first AI undergraduate engineering programs in the U.S., according to Penn.

A handful of other universities, including Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science and Purdue's College of Science, already offer AI majors. Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer AI courses and programming as well.

AI has already taken the world by storm, from beneficial applications like helping people create lucrative side hustles to not-so-innocuous uses like voice clone scams and other kinds of fraud. For better or worse, it seems here to stay, and Penn is looking to create the next generation of engineers to make the most of it.

"Launching a dedicated program in AI reflects our commitment to preparing students to be leaders in 21st century engineering," George Pappas, UPS Foundation professor of transportation at Penn Engineering and director of the AI program, told CNBC Make It in an email. "This dedicated AI program will accelerate students to become AI leaders as quickly as possible in order to address societal challenges as soon as possible."

The program offers five different concentrations that will allow students in the degree program to focus their studies on a specific area of AI, according to Penn's website:

  • Robotics
  • Vision/language
  • Machine learning
  • Data/society
  • Health/systems

Given the already-abundant presence of scams using AI technology and algorithms with harmful biases like racism and sexism baked in, leaders in tech and political figures alike have called on programmers to prioritize ethical development as they move further into the uncharted AI landscape.

At Penn, all students in the AI program will be required to satisfy an ethics requirement. Currently, students have two courses to choose from: one on ethical algorithm design and another taught by Penn's law school that covers "tech, AI, and ethics from a slightly different perspective," Pappas says.

"Our students should use the power of AI for social good," he adds.

The new AI courses will be available to all Penn students, regardless of their major. Since AI is expected to have such a far-reaching impact, the university says it will continue to find ways to integrate AI tools and education into its other programs. 

"All students — everywhere — are going to find that AI impacts how they learn any subject," Robert Ghrist, associate dean of undergraduate education and Andrea Mitchell University professor at Penn Engineering, says. "A cohort of AI engineering students makes for the perfect educational laboratory for testing how best to integrate AI in learning."

The impact of AI has already rippled through numerous industries and jobs making AI skills — and potentially a specialized degree — valuable in nearly any field. Along with needing developers and engineers to identify and create new AI applications, job experts say workers will need to adapt to the addition of AI in existing tasks and processes.

Penn's new degree will be "training students for jobs that don't yet exist," Ghrist said in the press release.

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I save half of my $250,000 a year salary as an AI scientist
I save half of my $250,000 a year salary as an AI scientist