BCS, the chartered institute for IT, has released a report that supports the government’s recent £13.5m investment in master’s level AI conversion degrees.
The report, ‘Scaling up the ethical artificial intelligence MSc pipeline’, was commissioned by the government’s Office for AI, with the aim to understand what can be done to tackle the severe shortage of AI professionals, particularly from diverse backgrounds.
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The government’s own AI review found that around 3,000 AI MSc graduates will be needed every year in order to furnish the country with the skills base it needs, and that ethical skills will be a necessary element of this base.
Research for the report involved extensive consultation with more than 50 universities, blue-chip companies, the Institute of Coding, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Office for Students (OFS), as well as government departments including the DCMS and DfE.
The report recommends that the AI sector should implement evidence-based solutions to diversity issues – such as those being used in engineering – as a “matter of urgency”. Other recommendations include that university departments sign up to recognised standards such as the Athena SWAN Charter, which recognises and celebrates the advancement of gender equality in HE and research institutions.
It’s going to mean getting serious about resolving gender diversity, and it’s going to need our profession to be very clear about the ethical and professional standards that are expected from AI practitioners.
– Dr Bill Mitchell, BCS
Dr Bill Mitchell, director of policy at BCS and the report’s author, said: “Our conclusion is that whilst we as a nation have the capacity and capability to make this happen, it’s going to need us to work together to achieve sufficient scale.
“It’ll need innovation from universities and employers in how they equip graduates with both professional skills and academic knowledge. It’s going to mean getting serious about resolving gender diversity, and it’s going to need our profession to be very clear about the ethical and professional standards that are expected from AI practitioners.”
Another focus of the report is the recruitment of students from arts and humanities backgrounds onto AI MSc courses. It states: “university computing departments should partner with, and recruit from, undergraduate programmes producing large numbers of female graduates and others from underrepresented groups.”
It also reveals that employers prefer students to develop professional AI skills through extensive work experience, which should then be assessed against industry-recognised standards.
One solution to this preference, that does not carry the same challenges as adding lengthy placements to the existing one-year MSc AI course, is the introduction of industry-funded AI courses, delivered through level-7 degree apprenticeships, and paid for through the apprenticeship levy.
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The report also warns that in order for progress to me made in achieving the government’s target, it will need “concerted collaboration” from stakeholders including universities, public bodies, and government departments.
The full report can be found at https://cdn.bcs.org/bcs-org-media/3047/ethical-ai.pdf