It’s often said that data is the oil of the twenty-first century, and artificial intelligence is the driving force.
Companies in all sectors are combining the reasoning abilities of the human mind with the processing power of computers, developing algorithms that can trawl through colossal data sets to help businesses make more informed decisions. That means that tomorrow’s future business leaders need more than a passing familiarity with AI.
For this reason, several of the world’s best business schools have launched specialist master’s programs in AI. Canada’s Smith School of Business, the University of Bologna in Italy, and Imperial College London are among the top-tier institutions running AI MSc courses that give students the technical, managerial and interpersonal skills they need to master machines.
In September 2019, the first crop of students will start the new MSc in Data Science and AI at SKEMA Business School in Lille, France. They will learn how to apply algorithms and cybersecurity to change and project management, while keeping in mind legal issues and ethical challenges (for example the fact that economists expect AI to displace vast swathes of the global workforce). The students will also hone their interpersonal skills (such as communication and leadership), which are thought to be unlikely to be automated.
François-Régis Chaumartin, the program’s scientific director, says prospective students from around the world have shown a keen interest in the course thanks to the hype around AI: it is increasingly important to business, to the global economy and society. “If data is the oil of the twenty-first century, AI is the driving force,” he says.
“These future professionals want to become fully involved in the upcoming transformations.”
Applicants “must be technophiles” with “good knowledge of mathematics and statistics”, says Chaumartin. They also need a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent qualification, as well as a strong score in the TOEFL or TOEIC English language tests.
The program launched in response to “pressing” employer demand for managers who can analyze data to shed new light on problems and guide decision making, says Patrice Houdayer, vice dean of SKEMA Business School. He expects employers — both small and large firms — from all industries to hire students.
The Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, Canada, in April launched a Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence.
Murat Kristal, the program’s director, says: “Artificial Intelligence will transform the private and public sectors in the coming decade. With businesses expected to be the main driver of AI adoption, the need for individuals [who] combine management skills and knowledge of advanced AI applications will continue to grow exponentially.”
In particular, knowing how to code makes business graduates stand out on the job market, says Florian Pelgrin, director of the MSc in Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence at EDHEC Business School in France. “We therefore face an increasing demand for our program.”
The course, launched in 2017, provides students with in-depth knowledge of computer programming languages such as R and Python, as well as data mining and analytics skills. The idea is that graduates will help businesses pull off digital transformation — using technology to transform a company.
“Students acquire a ‘common language’ [that is] understood by data scientists, developers and managers [and use it] to create insightful analysis and innovative strategies,” says Pelgrin.
His graduates have been hired by the tech companies Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM, as well as consulting firms like Deloitte Digital and Accenture Interactive. Some have even created their own companies and launched software applications.
At IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, students on the Master’s in Management program have been able to specialize in digital business since 2011. In addition, from 2015 candidates could combine the MiM with IE’s Master in Business Analytics and Big Data, spending an extra year learning statistics, programming, analytics and data visualization techniques. They graduate with both degrees and become business-savvy data scientists.
Kiron Ravindran, associate dean of MiM programs at IE Business School, says that graduates work for the usual consulting firms (McKinsey, EY) and tech companies (LinkedIn), but there’s also demand from the financial sector, for example at Santander Global Tech, the digital division of the global bank with Spanish roots.
He says that across sectors, there is a demand for multi-faceted skills. “A data scientist needs to be able to write software or use tools to manipulate large datasets and apply statistical methods,” says Ravindran. “In addition, they should possess the ability to assess the business fit of these tools and results.”
This runs counter to the narrative that AI will replace many human tasks and even entire jobs. “The more the algorithm is capable of spotting patterns in the data, the more the need for the human to validate such predictions,” says Ravindran.
The future for graduates of AI master’s programs, then, looks bright.