Written by Joanna Hughes

We’ve already established that corporations have many of the same rights as citizens in the US. And also that natural features, such as the Te Urewera forest in New Zealand, have rights, too. A recent PBS article argues it may only be a matter of time before artificial intelligence (AI) join the list of non-human entities that are recognized as people.

If you’re a PhD student, you’re already fueled by the acquisition of knowledge. While AI might not seem to relate to your discipline, it still should be of interest to you -- both from an intellectual perspective and from a professional one. Read on for a roundup of four things to know.

1. AI is already changing the world.

AI is already having a massive impact on society. According to data gathered by market research firm MaRS, 42 percent of US smartphone owners use AI-based personal assistants an average of 10 times a month, the US saves eight billion dollars annually by using retail, e-commerce, banking, and healthcare chatbots, and the Google car has autonomously driven 1.3 million miles. All in all, the projected value of the global AI market is $16.06 billion by the year 2022. So if AI isn’t directly affecting your life now; it will be in the near future.

2. AI and machine learning skills will be in great demand.

While we’ve long stressed the value of STEM studies, employees with machine learning-friendly skills, including math engineering, computer science, economics, and neuroscience, will be increasingly sought-after by employers. A blog entry by Y Combinator, a company which provides seed funding for startups, explains, “A machine learning PhD doesn’t only open up some of the highest-paying jobs around, it sets you up to have an outsized positive impact on the world.”

So not only will you be positioned to get a great job, but you’ll also be positioned to give back by being part of shaping this powerful technology to apply in meaningful ways.

3. It’s already used in academic publishing.

But even if your discipline is nowhere near the realm of AI, your research will still be affected for the better in several ways. “Academic literature has become a significant bottleneck. For instance, more than 70,000 papers have been published on the p53 protein alone. Academics struggle to keep up, while the general public simply can’t. AI can help change the way that published articles are perceived and received, by the general public,” says Enago Academy.

Other benefits of AI in scientific publishing is that it can determine emerging research trends, identify new peer reviewers, reveal flawed reporting and statistics, detect whether data was altered to reach a desired outcome, and fight plagiarism.

A recent Nature article further attests to the potential of AI for literature review as it relates to particular research questions. Research data scientist Giovanni Colavizza heralded the value of AI to “offer a more penetrating view of the literature” as opposed to acting merely as a citation index.

4. AI facilitates more personalized learning at the university level.

If you are planning to go into academia, meanwhile, AI also offers a breadth and depth of potential in higher education. The Conversation predicts, “Universities are already using AI algorithms to personalise learning and deliver content that is suited to the students' needs and pace of learning – and this is only likely to continue. [...] This will be a significant change for universities, as they move away from the traditional model of “one module guide for all”.”

In addition to helping students, AI will also help teachers do their jobs better. “It will see educators equipped with data sets to analyze and understand the needs of individuals. And work can be automatically adapted to the style and pace of learning for each particular student,” adds The Conversation.

One last thing to keep in mind? We are only beginning to tap into the vast potential of AI. Medium says, “The development of AI has already come a long way, but it still has a very long way to go until we have to worry about it surpassing the abilities of the human mind. We have a lot to learn about how our own brains work before we can build something that truly mimics them.” Leading the discovery that will propel this innovation? PhD students.


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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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