SCAI's SORBONNE.AI project has won the call for expressions of interest in artificial intelligence (AI), alongside projects from six other major French institutes in the field, reaffirming the institute's place and importance in the national landscape.
Director of SCAI and professor at the Laboratory of Probability, Statistics and Modeling (LPSM), Gérard Biau presents this ambitious and massive AI academic program.
What is the context of the SORBONNE.AI project?
Gérard Biau: This project, which will begin in 2022-2023, is fully in line with the objectives of the France 2030 plan and the academic component of the national strategy for AI, which calls for a massive increase in student education in AI. This strategy also responds to a broader European desire to develop high-level digital skills, as the Digital Europe program has earmarked nearly €2 billion in investments to support the digital transition.
What are its objectives and ambitions?
G. B.: The objective of this project, which involves the three faculties of Sorbonne University, is to train more students in the fundamentals of AI and data science, in addition to the disciplines they are currently studying. It is divided into three areas, with strategies adapted to each student population. The first, dedicated to initial education, should offer the emergence of a true continuum of training in AI from the first year of the bachelor's degree to the last year of the master's degree in science and engineering. The second is to design an online academic program that is open, adapted and accessible to our entire student community. The third is to develop our course offers in continuing education.
It is therefore a question of strengthening the disciplinary core of AI and data science by increasing the skills of specialized training, but also of creating new courses for non-specialist students at Sorbonne University who are interested in this field, whether they are in science and engineering, humanities or medicine.
What needs does AI meet?
G. B.: AI and data are now omnipresent in many disciplines such as biology, chemistry, humanities and medicine. The research areas and applications of AI are very diverse. Research fields, applications and jobs are evolving very rapidly. It is therefore essential that our students have access to a foundation of knowledge and skills in AI in order to be prepared for these scientific challenges and the changes in the professional world.
Beyond the basic technical skills needed to train AI experts, transferable skills are fundamental to adapt to the digital transformation. To meet these challenges, we must therefore be able to offer an education that combines disciplinary and transdisciplinary skills, integrating, for example, the ethical and methodological challenges of AI and data on science, technology and society, in order to better prepare our future graduates.
The success of this call for projects, which aims to educate future French and European AI talent, also highlights the value of having an institute such as SCAI, which is capable of ensuring a solid interdisciplinary approach, closely articulated with all the disciplines and components of the institution.
What activities are planned?
G. B.: In concrete terms, this project will result in the introduction of new courses related to data science and AI as early as the first year of the bachelor's degree. A new transdisciplinary minor "Data Science and AI" will enable students in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, regardless of their current major, to acquire the fundamentals of the field. In addition, the computer science and mathematics degree programs will evolve to include more specialized tracks on these issues.
We also plan to open new courses or strengthen existing AI courses in several masters programs. We are currently working with all of the components concerned to adapt the courses as closely as possible to the needs of each discipline.
In partnership with the company OpenClassrooms, we will also develop an ambitious modular online training program for students in our three faculties. This program will be open to all students from the first year of a bachelor's degree to the doctorate level and will lead to a professional certificate of competence in AI.
Finally, we are going to work on expanding our continuing education activities, with the support of the startup Datacraft and several professional associations, in order to contribute to the dissemination of AI skills to companies and public administrations.
The financial resources obtained should enable us to count on the necessary reinforcements for our teaching, administrative and research support teams. This is the other challenge of this project, that of recruitment, in the unprecedented context of funding allocated over five years for the development of training activities.
This article was first published on 8 July by Sorbonne University.