Photograph of the HiPerGator supercomputer

UF Focused on AI: University Teaches Students Skills in Artificial Intelligence

In AI University, In the Headlines, NewsBy Gershon HarrellStory originally published on Gainesville.com

Photograph of the HiPerGator supercomputer

University of Florida researchers are applying artificial intelligence and the HiPerGator supercomputer in many ways, like speeding up the discovery of improved treatments for disease, producing better tasting fruit and creating better tourism experiences.

The University of Florida is increasing its focus on artificial intelligence, from the classroom to campus events.

UF is holding its inaugural AI Days starting Thursday to showcase how it is building an AI-focused university. The events come as UF is integrating AI into its curriculum, providing students with a growing number of options to develop AI-related skills to prepare them for the workforce.

“Every job uses artificial intelligence techniques in one way or another and so basically, we’re preparing our students for this digital world that they’re going to find themselves in upon graduation,” said David Reed, associate provost for strategic initiatives and director of UF’s Artificial Intelligence Academic Initiative Center.

Reed said some everyday examples of AI are unlocking an iPhone with facial recognition or the technology used in an Amazon Alexa device.

UF’s inaugural AI Days take place Oct. 26-28, where students, faculty and staff are invited to participate in AI-focused events. 

There will be an AI pitch contest on Oct. 27, where students can launch businesses that have an AI focus. First-place winners of the pitch contest have the chance to win up to $12,000, second-place winners can win $8,000 and third-place winners can win $5,000.

The following day there will be an AI Days Hackathon, where UF students will break into teams and build a software application that acts a solution to a social problem such as poverty, education and gender inequality.

AI Days are also providing an opportunity for UF to welcome new AI faculty and give students the chance to learn about research and educational initiatives.

In an interview with The Gainesville Sun, Reed said UF currently has more than 230 AI courses and over 6,000 students taking the courses within UF. In addition, 110 new faculty have been hired in the area of AI across all 16 colleges at UF.

For students who would like to learn more about AI, UF has an AI Fundamentals course that any student can take. The course is a stepping stone to getting students certified in AI.

A University of Florida graduate student uses a Meta Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality (VR) headset.

A University of Florida graduate student uses a Meta Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality (VR) headset. VR headsets are most widely used for virtual reality video games, but they can also be used for training or simulations such as military and medical training, architecture and urban design. VR headsets commonly include stereoscopic displays, stereo sound, and sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes for monitoring the user’s head orientation. This is done to align the orientation of the virtual camera with the user’s actual eye locations.

After the AI fundamentals course, students can take an Ethics, Data and Technology course followed by an AI class that is part of their major. If a student is a business major, they can enroll in the Foundations of Business Analytics and Artificial Intelligence.

“In addition to that, we started with working with the thousands of companies that recruit our graduates to talk them about how our graduates are going to look different in a year or two. They’re going to come out with experience in artificial intelligence that students at other universities aren’t going to have,” Reed said. 

He said the certification shows that students understand the basics behind AI and makes them more competitive in the job market.

“A lot of jobs are starting to look for students that have at least some knowledge of AI and now they’re looking for students who can do these kinds of things,” said Diego Alvarado, an instructor of the AI Fundamentals course.

Alvarado said more than 300 students are enrolled to become AI certified through the course. He said the course began in 2020, after UF was given a supercomputer from Nvidia, a Silicon Valley-based technology company. The company is owned by UF alumnus Chris Malachowsky.

Fatima Elfasi, a fourth-year major in computer science engineering, said she has always been interested in technology. She said when she transferred to UF from Santa Fe College in 2020, all the on-campus chatter was centered around UF’s AI initiatives. 

“It’s pretty cool because it’s the future … It’s really exciting to be on the forefront and get to meet both leaders in the AI community and then also students learning about AI and learning how to implement it into every aspect of our world,” Elfasi said.

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