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December 7, 2020

New Johns Hopkins Graduate Program Boosts Leadership in Artificial Intelligence

Image of John Piorkowski, a chief AI architect at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

John Piorkowski, a chief AI architect at APL, is chair of the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s new graduate program in artificial intelligence.

Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

The Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) launched a new online graduate program in artificial intelligence (AI) for working professionals this summer, and some 70 students are now enrolled, learning from AI engineers and scientists in one of the highest-demand career fields in the nation.

The new program was formed in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, as the Lab and the university advance their national leadership in the booming sector.

“Every conversation in AI gets back to the talent gap. It’s something we as a nation are struggling with,” said program chair John Piorkowski, chief AI architect and head of the Applied Information Sciences Branch in APL’s Asymmetric Operations Sector. Piorkowski, who manages AI teams supporting a range of national security and defense efforts at APL, is one of the graduate program’s founders. “The U.S. lacks enough talented people to understand and work in the field.”

The two fastest-growing jobs in the United States are artificial intelligence specialist/engineer and robotics engineer, according to LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, which is based on an analysis of every public LinkedIn profile from 2015 to 2019. The U.S. government has identified global leadership in AI as a national security priority, and the Department of Defense released its first-ever strategy on artificial intelligence last year.

The graduate program was developed to teach working engineers and computer scientists AI theory and the skills to apply it to current and future intelligent systems and processes. Daniel Horn, associate dean at Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals, said the program is also ideal for professionals with a background in data, physics or applied math. The curriculum spans all aspects of AI — machine learning, data science, natural language processing, robotics, neural networks, computer intelligence and expert systems.

As program chair, Piorkowski also teaches one of the core courses required of all AI master’s students — Creating AI-Enabled Systems — in which students explore the life cycle of developing and operating systems, including applying ethics and reducing bias.

The AI graduate program offers degree and certificate options. Ten courses are required to complete the master’s program, and four are required to obtain a certificate. The EP program offers rolling admissions, so prospective students may apply at any time for consideration for spring, summer or fall enrollment.

Ashley Llorens, chief of APL’s Intelligent Systems Center, worked with Piorkowski on the team that developed the Lab’s 2019 AI Technology Roadmap and the idea for the graduate program. Llorens said few institutions are uniquely poised like APL, as a not-for-profit organization guided by a mission of public service to the nation, to further AI knowledge and education.

Image of John Piorkowski, a chief AI architect at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Program Chair John Piorkowski

Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

“I believe we can be a trusted voice in helping to advance the national workforce as well as the public’s understanding of the opportunities and risks presented by AI,” Llorens said, noting that teaching ethical principles is central to his work. “In fact, I think we have a responsibility to do it.”

One of the organizations needing more employees with advanced AI skills is APL itself, and it’s working to meet that need by recruiting those with experience in machine learning, big data and AI, and by enabling APL staff members to acquire those skills.

“To maximize the applications of AI at the Lab, it is important that all of our scientists and engineers have the ability to write AI programs relevant to their domain of expertise,” said Jim Schatz, head of APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department and a key contributor to the AI Roadmap.

“We are developing human-machine systems where human and machine intelligence work together,” Llorens said, adding that APL’s education and training products were developed to teach a full, systems view of AI. “Intelligent systems don’t operate in a vacuum — they need to work with, among and ultimately for people.”

Building on the Lab’s accomplished history in space exploration, defense systems, robotics and autonomous systems, APL published its 2019 AI Technology Roadmap to help inform its investments in research and future AI applications as well as to guide strategy with government agency sponsors. APL is now actively implementing the roadmap through four initiatives:

Enterprise Coordination and Experimentation: Establishing an AI Futures Team to accelerate progress

Strategic Research Investments in AI: Identifying key long-term research focus areas and optimal investments

Infrastructure and Enabling Tools: Establishing APL AI as an intranet portal for all staff as well as more channels for sharing resources and tools

Workforce Development and Education: Dedicating resources to build a local and national skilled workforce in AI technology

Media contacts:, 240-521-1314,
Lisa Ercolano, JHU Whiting School of Engineering, 443-845-3148,

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit

About Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals

Established with the express purpose of providing convenient, accessible graduate education for the technical workforce, Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals is a part-time, online graduate program offering master’s degrees and certificates in 23 disciplines. Instructors working at the top of their industries impart cutting-edge knowledge and real-world skills in collaborative, interactive learning environments. EP serves nearly 5,250 students across the country and offers a modern, relevant curriculum that prepares graduates to excel as scientists and engineers.

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