BYU Adds New Machine Learning Degree Program for Fall 2023

Students work on the computer. Students have the opportunity to study machine learning in the fall semester of 2023. (Lauren Woolley)

Artificial intelligence has been circulating on the internet for months. ChatGPT, OpenAI and other AI creations have caused a stir in the creative world and influenced millions of people as they transformed the way they interact with technology.

BYU has embraced the changes and in Fall 2023 is offering a new machine learning degree for students who want to learn more about AI.

According to BYU’s computer science department, the degree “is based on its previous focus on data science, but now has a stronger focus on machine learning.” Students will learn fundamental machine learning models while using real-world data and tools to leverage the field as it evolves understand.

David Wingate, associate professor of computer science at BYU, said people don’t need to worry about the future that AI represents. Though it’s new and revolutionizing the way people do business, he said people shouldn’t forget the positive impact AI is having on life.

“We need to embrace this as a new reality and prepare students to work side-by-side with the algorithms,” Wingate said. “I’m very excited about the new machine learning major because I feel it simultaneously prepares students for important jobs and prepares them for further graduate-level studies if they so desire,” said Wingate.

Tony Martinez, a professor of computer science at BYU, has been working in the AI ​​field since 1982. Martinez said most people mistake AI for machine learning. Computers receive vast amounts of data, show solutions to hypothetical problems, and learn from previous problems to come up with new solutions.

Martinez said machines aren’t inherently smarter than humans, but they are much faster. He went on to say that machines can perform “trillions of operations per second” while humans can only do a few per minute.

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

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

BYU senior Andrew Cohen majored in computer science. His first three years of high school focused on biotechnology, and it wasn’t until mid-Junior year that he realized the potential of machine learning.

“I wish with all my heart I could have started earlier,” said Cohen. “The resources were there, I just didn’t know about them.”

Cohen said AI is a tool and tools are there to be used. He has used ChatGPT to create lesson plans to teach himself different languages ​​and simplify difficult concepts in his university courses. Cohen predicts that machine learning will be part of the STEM curriculum in the next decade.

“I’m excited about the growth of the industry and the pace at which it’s growing,” said Cohen.

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