“We are facing a new technological revolution,” says Professor Jian Guo Zhu, Head of the School of Electrical and Information Engineering. “The Internet of Things and machine learning can’t be operated with small, local computers. We need cloud computing and big data, and we need AI to analyse that data in order to help us make intelligent decisions.”
A new specialisation, Intelligent Information Engineering, aims to do just that. It links the traditional information engineering degree with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, equipping students with tools that enable them to process data from industrial systems in a smarter and faster way.
“Our major is, at its core, application orientated data science,” says senior lecturer Dr Dong Yuan. “The course is unique in the way that it bridges the gap between software engineering, data science, and AI.”
“We teach our students how to make use of these tools and apply their skills to solve problems,” says Professor Zhu. “In applying AI to real world scenarios, we’re able to make everything smarter.”
In the last decade, there’s been a surge in demand for engineers with skills in AI and data processing to enable everything from smart cities to advanced manufacturing. The Intelligent Information Engineering major builds on foundations in mathematics and engineering by teaching students the latest technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, video and speech recognition, multimedia and sensory signal processing.
“The impact of these technologies will be bigger than the impact of the internet,” says Professor Branka Vucetic, Director of the Telecommunications Lab within the school.
The skills acquired by students studying this specialisation will have widespread applications. From facial recognition technology to augmented reality, applications of AI that require data processing technologies are becoming integral to the way we live and work.
Driverless cars are another example of the way data processing can use AI more to work smarter. Driverless cars currently use sensors and cameras, but they still need to make decisions about pedestrians and traffic. By collecting an enormous amount of data, and putting it through AI simulations, cars are able to predict where traffic will be, and communicate with each other to avoid congestion.
“This is a degree for the future,” Professor Vucetic says. “The integration of wireless, sensing and AI will create an era of intelligent connectivity that is essential for the Internet of Things, 6G and more. This specialisation is all about that integration.”
Another attractive feature of the major are its strong and extensive links to industry.
“The course was developed to be industry relevant, and was designed in consultation with industry,” says Professor Zhu. “We designed the curriculum to help students acquire attributes that industry is looking for in its employees.”
A focus on intelligent data engineering will also create new job opportunities. Most businesses accumulate mountains of data that does not get properly analysed – intelligent information engineering graduates can help companies get their data to perform better.
“The great thing about being skilled in this area is that it’s relevant to a wide range of industries. So our graduates will be able to work in everything from multi-national IT and tech companies, to Google and Amazon, to start-ups, the banking sector, education, and government,” says Professor Zhu.
The future of work appears to be increasingly dependent on AI, with the number of jobs requiring AI skills has grown by 4.5 percent since 2013.
This means that Intelligent Information Engineering is relevant to many other disciplines, including civil and mechanical, and even beyond engineering. Every discipline produces data, and the major is designed to give students the skills needed to efficiently analyse that data, and make smarter decisions based on that analysis.
“One of the core competencies of our graduates is engineering, but they can readily work across all sectors,” says Dr Dong Yuan. “One of our graduates’ key advantages is that they have been equipped with knowledge of AI, and IT has created a demand for students who can utilise AI. Companies are actively looking for talent in these areas.”
“We train students in different disciplines and they can adapt these skills into a new kind of engineering – or a new way of banking or shopping”, says Professor Zhu. “This means that employers can hire someone who can make the systems work, rather than just analysing the data.”
Intelligent Information Engineering will be available as a major for undergraduate students studying a Bachelor of Engineering, and as a specialisation for postgraduate students studying a Master of Engineering or a Master of Professional Engineering.