“Data is Today’s Oil, AI is the New Electricity”: The JKU Launches One of the First European AI Degree Programs

The JKU is one of the first European universities to offer a degree in AI that includes education in core fields such as Machine Learning and Deep Learning.

F.l.: Rector Lukas, Prof. Mara, Minister Schramböck, Prof. Hochreiter; Photo credit: BMDW Hartberger
F.l.: Rector Lukas, Prof. Mara, Minister Schramböck, Prof. Hochreiter; Photo credit: BMDW Hartberger

In 1969, Johannes Kepler University Linz introduced Austria’s first degree program in Computer Science and in 1990, the JKU introduced the first degree program in Mechatronics. The JKU is once again leading the way as the first university to offer a degree program in Artificial Intelligence that includes core AI skills such as Machine Learning as well as a strong focus on Deep Learning. AI pioneer Sepp Hochreiter and his colleagues will introduce students to modern developments in Artificial Intelligence starting in Winter Semester 2019/2020.

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas pointed to key success factors and remarked, “We are re-thinking technology beyond disciplinary boundaries.” All of the research teams at the JKU - whether in the fields of engineering & natural sciences, law, or medicine - are working together on technology for the future. This is unique in Austria and everything pertaining to cross-disciplinary research in technology comes together at the Linz Institute of Technology (LIT) at JKU, especially creating new future-oriented degree programs. Rector Lukas added, “The new degree programs in Artificial Intelligence build on the renowned research expertise at LIT.” AI pioneer Sepp Hochreiter (Institute for Machine Learning and head of the LIT AI Lab) led the way in planning the new programs and will also play a key role as head of the AI Lab at LIT. LIT receives one million euros in funding annually from the Upper Austrian government. In June, this research laboratory will be housed at the LIT Open Innovation Center, which is currently under construction on the JKU campus. Together with business and industrial experts, JKU researchers will conduct cross-disciplinary research to explore technologies of the future.

Artificial Intelligence to Become More Competitive
Margarete Schramböck, Austrian Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs, remarked, “Artificial Intelligence is becoming increasingly important in business and administration. We know that we have to invest in AI and robotics in order to remain competitive in the future.” As the industrial sector in particular will undergo major changes in the next few years, the federal government is currently working a nationwide strategy for AI, the “Artificial Intelligence Mission 2030”. AI’s potential is considered to be limitless. In an effort to be less dependent on international market leaders, investing in base-knowledge research and positioning Austria as an international location of research is vital. Schramböck added, “AI is a great opportunity for Austria and Europe to lead the way in industrialization.” Well-educated and trained experts are needed in order to be able to process, analyze and interpret this data in an overall socio-political context as well as apply it. “We therefore welcome the fact that these experts will be educated in the new Artificial Intelligence degree program in Linz,” Schramböck explained.

Artificial Intelligence is Electricity in the 21st Century
“Data is today’s oil, artificial intelligence is the new electricity” –this maxim epitomizes AI’s potential by pioneers in the field, such as computer scientist and former Stanford AI professor Andrew Ng.  Sepp Hochreiter, Linz’ pioneer in AI, agrees: “Artificial Intelligence is just as significant for the 21st century as electricity, and data is the raw material needed to generate knowledge and help make decisions.” And AI is advancing rapidly, permeating society and already considered more influential than the industrial revolution. Self-driving cars, robot assistants and AI-supported medicine are only just some of the applications. Prof. Hochreiter added, “The most recent successes in artificial intelligence are mainly due to advances in machine learning, especially deep learning.”  Algorithms do not rely on pre-defined rules but learn by example and experiences. Artificial neural networks can be trained using modern learning algorithms and datasets, performing well in various areas and supporting medical applications. For example, a new method developed at the JKU has made it possible to replace complex laboratory experiments in drug development with computer analyses. What used to take weeks or months and millions of euros to complete is now possible in just a few minutes at a fraction of the cost. Another example is Artificial Intelligence developed at the JKU which was used to compete with human experts in recognizing cell proteins. The experts did not have a chance against the AI developed at the JKU: Experts from the MedUni Vienna and the Kepler University Hospital took 5 hours to solve the given tasks. AI completed the tasks in 26 seconds. The best human expert correctly assigned 72% of the proteins corrections, the AI had 91% correct.

Magic Word: Systematic Problem Solving
The English-language undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Artificial Intelligence at the JKU are internationally-oriented. Artificial Intelligence is an interdisciplinary subject balanced with classes in mathematics and computer science and featuring special training in AI subject areas such as machine learning, data sciences, reasoning and knowledge representation, natural language processing (text and language) and image processing. The magic word for the AI programs is: systematic problem solving. Students are trained and encouraged to tackle complex tasks in a structured, methodical way in order to develop valid and useful solutions. Students also work together in teams to process and present their findings, thereby also honing a strong social skill set.

Machine-Human Interaction
The program also includes courses in the area of “AI and Society” to educate students in the area of social responsibility. Students will be asked to reflect on the general ethical implications artificial intelligence has on society as the JKU emphasizes a holistic perspective when it comes to education in society-changing fields such as AI. Rector Lukas added, “Because Artificial Intelligence has such enormous potential and could be a social disruptor in society, there needs to be a holistic framework to be able to think about the implications of AI and conduct research. The ethical guidelines in AI research and being aware of social responsibility are important and that is exactly what the programs in Linz will focus on.”

Human-machine interface and robot psychology are a widely discussed hot topic as part of the JKU’s interdisciplinary approach. Martina Mara, professor of Robot Psychology, remarked, “Many people are still wary and skeptical when it comes to robots and artificial intelligence.” As head of the LIT Robopsychology Lab, Prof. Mara’s main goal is to demonstrate how human-machine interaction actually works and can work in the 21st century. One aspect is the human fear of one day being replaced by robots. “Humans will not be replaced by robots, even if this is the perception the public is often subjected to,” said Mara.  Prof. Mara added that some of the misconceptions stem from terms used in the field of artificial intelligence, such as machine learning, deep learning, neural networks and algorithms. These terms are not widely used in the public and people do not often understand them or they have an incorrect understanding. Students should not only learn about technical equipment used in AI, but should also learn to think outside of the box. Prof. Mara added, “It’s not about robot psychology, but more about putting human experiences and the needs of different target groups in the focus of technological development.”

Students in the Bachelor’s degree program in Artificial Intelligence take courses in core subject areas such as machine learning and data science, AI basics and practical work, AI and Society, computer science, data science, knowledge representation and reasoning, as well as mathematics. Students in the Master’s degree program in Artificial Intelligence focus on deep learning, one of the most modern fields in AI. Students can choose from four elective tracks:

  • “AI and Mechatronics – Robotics and Autonomous Systems” focuses on teaching students how to apply AI techniques to robots and autonomous systems. This also includes control and sensor computer systems for robots and production systems.
  • “AI and Mechatronics – Embedded Intelligence and Signal Processing” consists of learning how AI is embedded into sensors and devices to make machines, production lines, and factories even smarter. AI techniques help analyze information to optimize maintenance, logistics, planning, marketing and much more.
  • “Reasoning and Knowledge Representation” focuses on conventional AI methods such as symbolic reasoning based on logic and mathematics, particularly logical reasoning, model testing and theorem proof. These techniques are important to verify software and hardware.
  • “AI and Life Sciences” teaches students how to apply AI techniques to medicine, biology, biotechnology, genomics, genetics, and other fields in life sciences. AI methods can, for example, predict protein function and structure (bioinformatics), identify drug side effects (drug design), and analyze medical images, predict disease prevalence, optimize hospital processes, and improve diagnostics (healthcare).

An information session about the new Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs in Artificial Intelligence at the JKU Linz will take place on May 7 and 8.