CMU's First AI Grad — From 32 Years Ago

Byron SpiceWednesday, May 13, 2020

Dietrich College grad Jared Leinbach really earned the first AI degree from CMU in 1988, when he graduated with a self-defined major.

This week, Carnegie Mellon University will confer degrees on the first graduates of the School of Computer Science's undergraduate program in artificial intelligence, but it won't be the first time CMU has awarded an AI degree.

It was 32 years ago that Jared Leinbach claimed his bachelor's degree after completing a self-defined major in AI.

"There was a wave of excitement at the time about AI," recalled Leinbach, a software developer who has started several companies. "Neural networks" was the buzzword then and CMU was a hotbed of research, having just hired one of the leading researchers in the area, Jay McClelland, as a psychology professor.

Leinbach arrived at CMU in 1984 as a mechanical engineering student, but after four semesters he decided to switch to what is now the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which allowed self-defined majors. He and his adviser came up with a plan that involved a number of computer science, cognitive psychology, linguistics and philosophy courses, as well as a couple of classes at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It was a bit of a heavy lift to get professors in all these disciplines to read and approve my plan," Leinbach said. Though AI at the time was not the commercial success it is today, many of the concepts and applications he explored in his studies are remarkably similar to those of the present day.

His AI degree helped open doors during his career, much like a CMU computer science degree, though most of his work has not involved AI. His most recent company, Asset Technologies, develops software and modeling tools for the financial industry.

"Today would be very different for graduates of the AI program," Leinbach said. "Any large technology company now has an AI department. I imagine graduates will have a great situation when they look for jobs."

His only regret about his degree may be that he failed to follow up on an offer at graduation to continue his AI studies as a master's student.

"But I was 21, I had a girlfriend and a motorcycle and I didn't want to load more on my plate," he added.

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