Artificial intelligence (AI) may sound like something out of a science-fiction film, and it is becoming an increasingly prevalent tool in many areas of business. But what is it exactly – and how does someone get to work with it?
What exactly is AI?
“AI refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence; for example, they can solve problems, recognise speech and learn from data,” says Bridie Killoran, careers and learning pathways manager, Atlantic Technological University. “A good example is the voice command by Amazon Alexa, Netflix recommendations, or your Spotify recommended playlists, all of these are powered by AI.”
Kyle Gribben, head of the digital services group at Matheson says AI is an umbrella term that is used to describe one or a combination of various technologies including machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks and deep learning. Advanced iterations of these technologies also incorporate what is called sentiment analysis and are known as “cognitive computing”.
AI and business
Business leaders see AI as a driver to maximise efficiencies, reduce costs, manage risk, drive innovation and most importantly increase profitability in their organisations, says Dave Feenan, network manager, Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet.
“AI affords businesses the opportunity to forecast trends, simulate new business models and create ‘recommender technology’ – when you are buying online you get many prompts for similar products or services based on your search criteria/buying patterns,” Feenan says.
“As we enter the digital decade and the fourth industrial revolution, AI as a sector agnostic technology will be a driver for change. Look at the impact AI is making in cancer research, in preventive maintenance, and in real-time information systems – weather, transport, production systems.”
A suitable career path
Gribben says that there can be no doubt that the ongoing development of AI and AI-based capabilities are already impacting career options and career development in a myriad of ways.
“As far back as 2019, 37 per cent of organisations surveyed by Gartner were using AI in the workplace in some capacity and that percentage has undoubtedly grown since then,” Gribben says.
“This means that more and more people can expect to interact with [AI] as a part of their role, whether through the use of chatbots, the provision of AI-enhanced automated workflows, or more directly for those that work to ‘teach’ machine learning applications how to predict new output values.”
The range of career paths that fall under the term AI are diverse, says Killoran: “The most common include machine learning engineer, data scientist, business intelligence developer, research scientist, software engineer and data analyst. These roles are prevalent across all industry sectors and not limited to the computing and IT industry.
“But of course, there are also the associated roles that come with AI projects, for example, project managers, especially those with strong agile skills, business analysts and experts in process improvements.”
Gribben says that in the legal industry the ongoing uptake in legal technology has meant that there are various expanding roles that are directly affected by, if not outright created by, the expansion of AI technologies. These roles exist both within law firms and within vendors who are providing services to those firms.
For those looking to move into the AI space, there are plenty of opportunities – and many routes that could be taken. A background in computing science, software engineering, electronic engineering and/or maths would provide a good basis for “on the job training”, says Professor Christopher Nugent, head of the school of computing in Ulster University.
“On the other hand, a strategic effort could be made to focus on what are now becoming increasingly popular at undergraduate level in the form of specialised Level 5 (second year) or Level 6 (final year) modules in AI, machine learning and statistics with data mining. Coupled with this are postgraduate courses in AI and PhD research opportunities focusing on more advanced and specialised elements of AI.”
Gribben says the qualifications that are needed depend on the role one is hoping to achieve: “For example, an AI engineer will typically have an undergraduate degree in computer science, data science, or information technology, followed by a postgraduate course in AI, data analytics or algorithmics.
“For other roles, this level of formal study is not necessarily a pre-requisite, and for roles such as legal technologist, IT trainer, legal solutions consultant etc, there are different career paths and opportunities available, many of which may be guided by pre-existing skills and knowledge sets aligned to a working knowledge of the AI and recent developments within that industry.”
Career of the future
More than 40 of the world’s leading innovators in AI have an established a presence in Ireland, says Mark Jordan, chief strategy officer, Skillnet Ireland.
“The high representation of global leading AI firms in Ireland is not only a significant boost to our economy, it also greatly enhances Ireland’s capacity to compete globally across sectors in which the application of AI is growing, including the healthcare, manufacturing, communication services and medtech sectors, as well as financial services, transportation, and retail.”
In preparing for the “AI revolution”, it will be important to hone transferable skills, especially resilience and adaptability and keep up to date with the latest technologies and trends shaping industry, says Killoran.
“We also hear from business a lot about the need for communication skills, adapting AI often means a move away from legacy systems and this requires a lot of collaboration between business and technical teams.”
Article (and image) originally published in Irish Times