AI-focused Education Indicates That Industry 4.0 is Closer Than We Think

January 11, 2020 by Cabe Atwell

This article reviews how AI is making its way into education, which in turn may direct the future of Industry 4.0.

There is no straight path to a career in AI. Not only is it still an emerging field, but AI development requires a multi-disciplined approach that demands training in every engineering discipline, plus knowledge of other disciplines like machine learning and advanced data processing for Big Data.

Still, many programs—in primary education, secondary education, undergraduate education, and graduate education—are preparing students to be the next innovators of AI.

These educational shifts indicate that Industry 4.0—a fourth industrial revolution of sorts—will be an ever-pressing reality for the next generation of electrical engineers. 


Industry 4.0: A Fourth Industrial Revolution

The term Industry 4.0 represents the fourth major shift to occur in manufacturing: 

  • The first industrial revolution refers to the period in which water and steam powered mass manufacturing mechanization. 
  • The second industrial revolution represents the creation of electricity, which catalyzed assembly lines and mass production.
  • The third industrial revolution nods to the advent of computers, which enabled advanced automation.
  • And finally, the fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0) reflects how Big Data, smart technologies, and machine learning—or AI—is shifting the manufacturing process.


Industry 4.0


It's possible that in the future, manufacturing will be powered by smart, autonomous systems that instinctively "know" how to minimize waste and maximize productivity.

These systems offer smart hacks never before seen in manufacturing, such as the ability to alert operators before maintenance is needed and to self-trigger alerts in the event of an emergency or system failure.

These shifts are transforming manufacturing and increasing production in ways never imagined. In short, Industry 4.0 is, by definition, a kind of revolution.

To prepare for this shift toward Industry 4.0, educators at every level are crafting AI-focused programs and materials to train students for a new subfield of engineering that will have increasing prominence in the years to come.


Educational Programs for AI

Undergraduate and Graduate Programs for AI

A growing number of schools offer concentrations and majors that explore AI at the bachelor and master levels.

At the very least, most engineering schools within the U.S. have realized the need to offer courses in AI and subfields (e.g., machine learning, data analytics, etc.). Most of this coursework is offered at the graduate level, but not all.

U.S.-based programs worth noting for those interested in pursuing graduate degrees in AI include:

  • The University of California, San Diego
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • The University of Rochester
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Harvard University
  • Oregon State University
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • The University of Georgia
  • The University of Tennessee Knoxville


3AI: An Example of AI-focused Study

One example of AI-based education is 3A Institute (3AI)—one of the very first academic programs that claim to prepare students for the changes to come in the next AI-fueled industrial revolution.

The master’s program was developed by Genevieve Bell, a distinguished professor at the Australian National University. 

3AI trains students in cross-functional engineering disciplines and related disciplines (e.g. machine learning) and arranges for students to land internships and cadetships. 



Genevieve Bell, the founder of 3Ai, challenges her students to engage in "Critical Thinking 2.0." Image from 3Ai

Bell believes a career in AI requires forward-thinking. Engineers and entrepreneurs must make informed estimations of how people will use technology in the future and proactively build the systems to support those processes before they are needed.

Bell's program is built on a concept she terms "Critical Thinking 2.0," which challenges students to think about growth.

Students learn how to think critically, frame intuitive questions, discover the answers organically, and get the larger community involved. 


Elementary School and Middle School Curriculum for AI

The discussion on AI education isn’t only taking place at the graduate level. Some educators are focused on teaching children the fundamentals of AI in STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics courses). 

Blakeley H Payne, a graduate research assistant at the MIT Media Lab studying the ethics of AI, is one such person.

She is developing a curriculum to teach AI to elementary and middle school students. The project, in collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focuses on creating 45-minute courses in AI that can be taught without access to technology; for instance, teachers may use materials like construction paper to explain basic concepts.


Machine Learning for Kids

Machine Learning for Kids offers free learning tools for children to understand AI principles. Image from Machine Learning for Kids

A pilot of the program took place last summer with 225 fifth- through eighth-graders, and another summer program is being developed for next summer. Once finalized, Payne plans to release the curriculum through an open-source platform.

Some organizations offer teachers supplementary resources to bring into the classroom for AI education. Hour of Code is one such organization that allows educators to schedule 45-minute educational coding tutorials.

Machine Learning for Kids is another great resource, which offers downloadable AI and machine learning lesson plans, guides, and slides for educators and students that are easy to follow and free to use.


AI Workshops and Free Courses for Working Professionals

If you are already a working professional, you may be wondering if there is a way to learn AI skills without having to enroll in a graduate program. There are plenty of resources for you, too.

Numerous websites, like Coursera, Udemy, and Udacity, offer free web-based courses on AI. Many of these courses, offered by top educational institutions, can be audited for free.

It is worth noting that Udacity claims to offer coursework in the latest tech skills. Coursera also sponsors online degree programs in technology.



Sites like Coursera provide dozens of free or affordable courses on AI, offered by reputable tech companies. Image from Coursera


There may also be groups in your area that meet to discuss and learn emerging trends in the AI tech space.

Meetup can be a great resource for finding people nearby with similar interests. Local community colleges and other organizations may also be great, affordable resources for expanding your AI toolbox. 

Some institutions even allow you to create your own AI graduate program without having to go back to school. 



While in many ways, Industry 4.0 is already in effect, the focus on AI and machine learning even at the elementary level indicates that it may be a necessary skill for electrical engineers in the future.

As more of these students move into professional spaces, they will be placed in charge of manufacturing processes.

Only then will we be able to see the full effects of their AI-focused education on the fourth industrial revolution. 

1 Comment
  • C
    Carol Garcia January 14, 2020

    Anyone else? The training centers I know, such as do not directly offer courses to learn AI skills but I have done fp focused on technology and complemented with other courses in those 3 online platforms.

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