Turkey primed to raise its first AI engineers

Published 03.07.2019 00:15
Updated 03.07.2019 11:14
Hacettepe University will be one of two universities that will train artificial intelligence engineers in Turkey.
Hacettepe University will be one of two universities that will train artificial intelligence engineers in Turkey.

Turkish universities are getting ready to introduce the first artificial intelligence departments to train engineers of the future

Ankara-based Hacettepe University has opened Turkey's first artificial intelligence (AI) engineering department, Chancellor Haluk Özen has confirmed.

"Our AI Engineering Department has been listed in the Higher Education Institutions Examination (YKS) preference guide announced by the Board of Higher Education (YÖK) last week," he said.

The decision shows AI is academically a top priority for Turkey. With the opening of this department, AI experts at the undergraduate level will be raised and Turkey will academically reach the same level as the world's leading universities.

The department will initially accept 30 students in September 2019, preparing Turkey's first AI engineers.

Professor Mehmet Önder Efe of the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Hacettepe University.

Why is this department important? What is the business potential in this field in our country? Hacettepe University's Department of Artificial Intelligence Engineering explains the answers to these questions:

"Currently, our computer engineering program includes technical elective courses that can be included in the field of AI, and students can take these courses and graduate by receiving information at the undergraduate level. Our aim with the AI engineering program is to name our studies in this framework, to take this field, in which we are strong, further and provide students the opportunity to specialize at the undergraduate level by following a computer engineering curriculum focused on AI."

Well, who should choose the department? What are its place in the academy and private sector? The department answers these questions:

"There is a need for a workforce trained in this field in both the academy, research laboratories as well as the sector. When this need is considered, we expect our graduates to be welcomed with great interest both in academia and in the sector with the good education they receive at the undergraduate level. It is highly probable that they will continue the undergraduate studies they completed in academia with special graduate programs both in Turkey and abroad. In addition, the knowledge gained by our graduates in the field of AI will be a preference for their employment in the sector. Our students will have the opportunity to find a place for themselves in multidisciplinary studies and to direct these studies after graduation."

What will be in the curriculum of this department? What is its difference from computer engineering? Here are the answers to these questions:

"At the core of the AI engineering program, there will be a computer engineering program focused on AI. In the diploma of our graduates, it will be written that 'This student has graduated from the Computer Engineering Department Artificial Intelligence Engineering Undergraduate Program.' In the first year, students enrolled in both programs will follow a joint curriculum. Students enrolled in the AI program will begin to specialize in AI in the second grade. AIN211 Principles of AI, AIN200 Computers and Ethics, AIN212 Fundamentals of Artificial Learning, AIN214 Artificial Learning Laboratory, AIN311 Fundamentals of Data Science, and AIN313 Data Science Lab, AIN312 Formal Languages and Automated Theory are the compulsory courses apart from the internship and senior design project in this program. In our current curriculum, technical elective course clusters focusing on 'Perception and Language,' 'Big Data and Artificial Learning,' 'Medical Artificial Intelligence' and 'Decision Making and Robotics 'are defined. In the near future, these course pools will be expanded with new undergraduate courses.

Turkish engineers a necessity

Hacettepe University Computer Engineering Department AI Program faculty member, professor Mehmet Önder Efe, shared the following opinions about the program to be opened in September 2019:

"The U.S. and China are taking very planned steps in AI. In order to add Turkey in this process and make it one of the developers, it was necessary that one of the universities in our country which have completed the institutional evolution also should take on this task. This is the main reason for YÖK's choice. In my opinion, the start was in the right place. We are taking 30 students for now. The decision for the later period will be made by YÖK."

"While creating the curriculum, examples from abroad were examined. I rather agree that the private sector should write the curriculum. The fact that the largest companies in the world are the information companies today, indicates that the private sector will play an important role in this field. An industry board of this program will soon be established, and we will be cooperating with the private sector at that point. The initial curriculum of AI engineering will expand in such a way that it will include very interesting lessons in the near future," he added.

"We predict that the natural development of every discipline will also be here. No one can say that the documents provided for the program's establishment will remain unchanged for years. We currently have the staff to start the program. The first year of the program will be the same as computer engineering. Differentiation starts in the second grade. I hope that the university administration will open new staff for this program, and we will obtain a synergy of programs complementing each other with computer engineering."

"While most of the world's giant companies were energy companies 10 years ago, they are IT companies now. The scientific and moral dimensions of software, machinery and solutions that can use human capabilities at a certain capacity and offer them to the benefit of people need to be handled by experts. This is exactly our starting point. We need to train people who have become 'official experts' in AI. Being self-taught is not enough; we need to be specialized in this matter. Between 2012 and 2017, we see that the need for a machine learning engineer has increased approximately 10 times, and there has been an increase in similar disciplines. Do we have enough human resources? No. In order to be able to say 'I exist' in the competition, it is necessary to take a step.

Let's not miss the train

"It was difficult to explain why systems worked in the field of AI in the past, now official rules have been started to be understood. That is, we are at the point of the transition from 'alchemy to chemistry,'" as Bill Freeman from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says.

"If we miss this point, the technology train is about to get off the platform for the last time," Yuval Noah Harari says in his book "Sapiens," and the future of those who have missed it will be very different.

"We consider making this move as our national duty. We think Turkey would definitely be included in the AI competition in the world. New employment potential is seen at every stage of products that will be developed in every field in which research and development investment is made in Turkey. We do not need to do anything specifically for the use of AI-supported products as these products will make our lives easier, and we will naturally become customers of them. The important thing is to build our own design and production. I think this should be the aim of the AI engineering program and the new programs to be established."

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