University of Western Ontario: Western Engineering launches artificial intelligence specialization

Western Engineering is launching a new artificial intelligence systems engineering (AISE) program, starting this fall, in response to growing industry demand for engineers with AI and machine learning skills.

The AISE program allows students to earn a combined degree, with an AI specialization completed in conjunction with one of the five fundamental engineering programs: civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical and mechatronic systems.

“AI touches all branches of traditional engineering disciplines,” said Jeffrey Wood, associate dean, undergraduate studies and professor of mechanical and materials engineering. “Everything is moving toward computer support, whether it is in civil engineering and smart cities, mechanical engineering and intelligent manufacturing, or process control and chemical engineering. Now that we have the computing power to handle big data in real time, engineers can really make use of those capabilities.”

Unique program

Offered and administered by the department of electrical and computer engineering, the program is open to undergraduate students who have completed the common first-year in engineering.

Students will be educated in the fundamentals of AI, deep learning, online learning, algorithms and data structure to solve engineering problems. Through project-based courses and case study methods, they will learn to apply AI to problems and challenges unique to their sectors.

The program offers a unique interdisciplinary approach that marries traditional technical engineering subjects with the fundamentals of AI and AI applications.

Students enrolled in the program will develop skills in:

computing and software development
machine learning and data engineering
IoT (Internet of Things) networks and systems
signal processing and system design
Graduates of the program will understand the characteristic behaviour of AI models and will be capable of providing accountability in professional engineering environments. They will develop advanced skills to ensure their models are understood and deployed safely and responsibly, while also being able to evaluate the applicability of their model’s predictions.

Wood underscored the importance of this aspect of training in a world that already includes autonomous vehicles, drones and complex cybersecurity systems.

“An engineer’s primary obligation is to protect public safety,” he said, “Any type of model that is drawing on big data and inferring conclusions automatically, without human intervention, has a lot of potential danger to it.”

Timely program

Wood said Western Engineering has the resources and expertise to deliver what external reviewers observed as a “state-of-the-art and timely” undergraduate program.

“We’re set up for this,” he said. “We have collaborations with the faculty of science, in both computer science and data science, industry partners with real data sets, and all the right pieces in place in our base disciplines. We also have clearly identified research areas that integrate with AI, with expansion plans in place to hire new faculty members and create new labs.”

Within days of being announced, the program attracted an incoming cohort of 80 students. That number is expected to grow to a target of 150 students in the coming years.


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