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The School of Computing received more than $1.4 million to launch a new graduate-level degree and course certificates.

More than ever our national and local economies are hungry for computer professionals. There are more than 8,100 high-tech companies in Utah alone, and that number has been growing at an astonishing rate.

To meet that demand, the University of Utah’s School of Computing, one of the leading computer science departments in the nation, has received more than $1.4 million from the State of Utah to launch a new graduate-level degree and course certificates for students interested in three emerging areas in computer science: cybersecurity, deep learning in artificial intelligence and fairness in artificial intelligence.

These three-year grants are part of a larger $10.4 million initiative from the Utah System of Higher Education to help grow the state’s workforce for its expanding tech industries.

Deep learning

“Deep learning” refers to a type of machine learning in which algorithms duplicate human thinking. It’s through deep learning that computers learn how to identify objects in images, translate languages, power robots, or drive cars autonomously. It’s a fast-growing area that companies from Google and Netflix to transportation departments and banks are building upon.

The U’s School of Computing will develop a graduate-level Deep Learning Certificate Program, a 15 credit-hour curriculum that will teach students all aspects of deep learning in society. The money will be used to purchase computer systems with high-powered graphics processors, for faculty support, and to help establish internships with companies.

“We invited industry to participate in this, so it’s an industry-motivated certificate,” says U School of Computing professor Tom Henderson. “There are a thousand job titles related to this area, such as Big Data Machine Learning Engineer, Deep Learning Scientist, and Machine Vision Engineer.”

Secure computing

Nearly every aspect of our lives involves computers and the internet, so keeping data and systems secure is paramount.

The U’s School of Computing will be establishing both a Master of Science in Secure Computing and a Graduate Certificate in Secure Computing that will boost a student’s prospects of working in the cybersecurity industry.

“Our entire lives and all of our critical infrastructure are now networked and use computers, and we have to protect that,” says U School of Computing professor Sneha Kasera. “There’s going to be a huge investment in cybersecurity, and we want a superior workforce to deal with security threats and establish our world leadership in cybersecurity.”

The 15 credit-hour certificate program can be applied to the master’s degree and will also be available online, Kasera says.

Fairness in AI

Artificial intelligence systems are used in a variety of functions such as determining financial, business, medical or legal risks or in helping weed out candidates for job interviews. While these algorithms can be better than humans at these tasks, emerging research has shown they can also discriminate against protected groups. This can impact millions of people as well as pose legal challenges for companies.

U School of Computing assistant professor Bei Wang Phillips, together with David Eccles School of Business marketing professors Arul Mishra and Himanshu Mishra, would use their grant to develop two new courses that address this issue. “Fair Algorithms for Business Decisions” would be taught to graduate students by the business school and focus on better understanding the use of fair algorithms in business decisions and maintaining that fairness during their development and deployment. The “Fair Machine Learning” course would be taught in the School of Computing to undergraduate students and centers on how to ensure biases in both the data and the model do not lead to algorithms that treat people unfavorably.

“Our aim is to train the next generation of data scientists for the Utah workforce who employ, implement, or deploy fairer machine learning tools in the industry,” says Phillips.

The U is one of five Utah universities that have received these “Deep/Emerging Technologies” grants, designed to help develop curricula in areas such as advanced materials, AI, augmented and virtual reality, quantum computing, and biotechnology.

The new certificates and degree offered by the U could become open for students as early as spring semester of 2022.

The U alone produces 46% of the state system’s B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. computer science and computer engineering graduates each year and has 1,929 students enrolled in those fields, a number that has consistently grown each year.