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Research and Development of Future AI Technology

Academics

An overlooked career in AI is based around teaching the concepts and applications of AI through ongoing research that may prove fruitful as the technology improves.

In the spring of 2006, three students at India's Jaipur-based Global Institute of Technology built something they named the Artificial Intelligence Military Support System. The goal was to provide better border security in the Rajasthan region by creating a web of lasers to detect movement across the border and then have the computer determine the level of threat and the appropriate response. It worked well enough for India's military to study its long-term applications.

Atlanta-born professor Jim Davies chose the academic route to a career in AI. He teaches at Carleton University's Institute of Cognitive Science. “Cognitive science is kind of like physics was before Newton,” Davies explained. “We know so little about it; it's a field that's very important, very interesting to me. There could be major science revolutions in my lifetime, and there's a chance to be a part of one. I liked the different, interdisciplinary aspect [of teaching and] not being pigeonholed into one field.”

Davies followed a path from high school to college that exposed him to several different fields until he narrowed down his choice to the new branch known as cognitive science. “In high school, I liked philosophy, so I majored in philosophy in college. During my senior year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I was talking to the department chair. He asked if I had heard about cognitive science and gave me a book about it. It was so enthralling that I got an early job through Los Alamos National Lab, and while in grad school, I took courses in the philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science departments. I attended Georgia Tech for psychology, but they were not as friendly to computer modeling of the human mind as I would have liked.”

Davies admitted it was difficult finding his first job given how new cognitive science was at the time, but over the last few years the field has grown. Cognitive science is made up of several different disciplines in which you can specialize. “Upon graduation, your career options go in two directions. There's the human-computer interaction work in non-academic jobs such as educational technology—creating software to help education. Human-computer interaction work means human testing and interface design. Microsoft, for example, has a huge research department to make sure their programs are useable and intuitive to the consumer. Adobe does the same thing. It's pretty easy to get a job in these areas, especially since they are growing so rapidly.

“Human factors, a related field, is less about computers and more about objects. Human factors might deal with things like how levers work in a cockpit, whereas human-computer interaction might mean designing the next generation of smart homes.”

In addition to having taught at Ontario's Queen's University in Kingston, Davies was under a two-year contract for research. To him, being able to do both has it rewards. “Being an academic scientist is one of the best jobs in the world. You have tenure, a pension, flexible hours, and lots of vacation [time],” he noted.

Pure research is something many companies also engage in through their research and development departments. For example, Terry M. Turpin, senior vice president and chief scientist at Essex Corporation, a technology company, took Essex's optical processing work and studied using light waves to process information. If successful, Turpin's research may lead to a revolutionary leap in AI processing capability.

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