30 years of watching AI grow

30 years of watching AI grow

Learn about the long history of Associate Professor and Program Manager for RMIT Melbourne’s Master of AI, Julie Porteous. Dr. Porteous weighs in on the debate of how much AI will affect certain industry professions, and whether or not you should be worried about your future career!

When Associate Professor Julie Porteous was asked to develop RMIT’s Master of Artificial Intelligence program in 2018, it signalled just another step in her long journey with programming and AI.

Beginning in the 1980s at the University of London and studying computer science, Dr. Porteous said she “stumbled” into becoming a programmer. At the time in the UK, programmers were in demand and with a decent salary, so it was natural to Dr. Porteous to follow this career path. While at UCL she took research jobs, which included being on a project that was the world’s first online cataloguing system. “This was the early days of computer programming, using languages like Prolog, discrete maths, logic and logical reasoning,” she recounts.

Julie Porteous headshot photo Associate Professor Julie Porteous, RMIT’s Master of Artificial Intelligence program

“I remember the beginning of vision and object identification. During my second research post we were working at an air traffic control centre in France, where they were using these expert decision systems, that at the time, were just demonstrators and prototypes. It was all old school AI.”

The area that Dr. Porteous originally worked in was called Automated Planning, which is thinking about tasks that need to be done and the order in which they must be completed. This created an early AI general problem solver. “Whatever the problem is, if I can encode it using this representation of action and change, then I can solve it.” Dr. Porteous explains. “That was the dream then, and in a way, it persists today. A lot of highly difficult questions from those first days of AI, such as genuine understanding, genuine general strategies that can be applied in new situations and creativity and design, we still deal with now.”

Society is also dealing with the repercussions of AI, specifically regarding certain professions, that are said to be under threat due to the power of AI tools. Dr. Porteous confides, however, that many of these jobs will more than likely just be changed so that the human focus will be shifted to more important details. AI will help filter out the tasks that humans won’t need to deal with anymore.

“The genie is already out of the bottle,” Dr Porteous notes. “These are computer systems and tools that we use already. The real question is how we use them and how we interact with them.”

The question of ethics in AI is one that RMIT takes seriously, and it is a part of the master’s program developed by Dr. Porteous. “There needs to be an element of social responsibility in the system. As developers, we must ask is it functional? Is it legal? Is it fair and nonbiased? Our international communities, of which RMIT is a part of, are focused on using AI to work for societal good, such as anti-poaching in Africa, on medical research or on progressing human wellbeing and mental health.”

Although just recently launched, Dr. Porteous cannot emphasise enough the strengths RMIT brings to its students. “RMIT uses its research and industry partner strengths to stand out. In Australia we leverage our partnerships, real-world examples and real-world data sets,” she relates.

Continuing, Dr. Porteous says that “there is a need for trained AI professionals right now. In the future, the demand will only grow. With RMIT’s current and relevant industry focus, including having industry on our advisory board, RMIT students will fair very well in the job market. This is a given as our program gives students a broad perspective of the field, and we go very deep in some courses, specifically the robotics course. It’s all hands on and applied.”

Dr. Porteous notes that a key takeaway in graduating from the Master of AI program is that it opens the door to any prospect. Students come out of the program with strong programming, analytical reasoning, and decision-making skills, all of which are transferrable regardless of the industry. The courses as well, in both Australia and Vietnam are similar, thus students can have the possibility to work across two countries.

Are you interested in being at the forefront of technological innovation? Learn more about RMIT’s master’s degrees here:


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