Learn AI in California: A Guide to Artificial Intelligence Degree Programs & Certificate-Level Training Courses Online & in California

Written by Rebecca Turley

California has one of the most diverse economies in the entire world, but its technology sector is by far its greatest strength. Technology in the Golden State accounts for nearly one-fifth of the state’s economic output. It’s home to the largest number of tech businesses in the nation, and its tech workforce is 1.8 million people strong. California is also where you’ll find the world’s largest startup ecosystem – Silicon Valley, of course – along with universities with the most substantial research funding anywhere in the nation. In fact, California snags about $3 of every $10 in federal research funding.

In California, AI advancements have become everyday marvels, with companies in nearly every sector discovering new ways to use the technology to solve problems and push business and industry further into the future.

To become part of this new future, you’ll need to get serious about your education. Fortunately, California is home to a growing number of AI degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. You’ll find programs expertly designed to prepare students to master AI tools and concepts, as well as programs that are training the professionals who are advancing AI by developing those tools and making them smarter.

California is Taking the Lead in AI Innovation and Regulation

In September 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom took the first steps to solidify California’s position as a leader in AI. He signed an executive order that directs state agencies to (1) take a proactive approach to AI regulation, (2) promote fair and equitable AI principles, and (3) promote workforce development in this emerging field.

Designed as a comprehensive, all-encompassing approach to AI, Newsom’s executive order may very well serve as a blueprint for other states in the years to come. And as home to 35 of the top 50 AI companies in the world, it only makes sense that California takes the lead in both regulating and fostering this emerging technology.

 “We’re neither frozen by the fears nor hypnotized by the upside. We’re taking a clear-eyed, humbled approach to this world-changing technology.”

The AI revolution is going to take a delicate balance between innovation and regulation. It won’t be easy, but it’s a task that California is uniquely positioned to tackle.

Some of the key points of Newsom’s executive order include:

Artificial Intelligence Could Be the Answer to California’s Wildfire Problem

california wildfiresRaging wildfires are, unfortunately, a persistent issue in the Golden State. But artificial intelligence is stopping them in their tracks.

More than 1,000 cameras are up and running throughout California, providing firefighters with real-time insight that allows them to attack smoldering fires before they become unmanageable wildfires. California utility companies and public agencies were tasked with mounting these cameras, which are capable of rotating a full 360 degrees to examine their surroundings.

The strategically placed cameras are part of the ALERTCalifornia AI program, which was developed by engineers at the University of California San Diego and launched in August 2023.

The ALERTCalifornia AI program uses the power of AI technology to help it learn. When the program sends an alert of a potential fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection enters a positive or negative response, thereby teaching the program to better identify smoldering areas instead of false positives created by factors like clouds or dust. The more responses the program receives, the more accurate it becomes.

At the same time, the program is capturing additional data from airplanes, drones, and aerial surveys and measuring everything from snowpack to water and soil quality.

The program eliminates the need for dispatchers to watch live feeds; instead, they can respond to potential fires identified by artificial intelligence.

The ALERTCalifornia AI program couldn’t come soon enough. California’s wildfire seasons are growing in severity due to drier, hotter conditions. For example, in 2022, wildfires in California resulted in nine deaths, the destruction of nearly 900 structures, and more than 331,000 acres burned.

While California has been using cameras for years to monitor fires, the AI technology is allowing firefighters to identify fires when they’re still emerging, instead of when they become full-blown infernos. After a very successful pilot, Cal Fire expanded the program in September to include all its 21 dispatch centers in the state.

AI Jobs in California

There are few states that can come close to California for opportunities in artificial intelligence. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, AI professionals in California, who fall under the broader BLS category of computer information and research scientists, will enjoy strong opportunities well into the future, with job growth here expected to jump a whopping 41% in the ten-year period leading up to 2030.

In 2020, the number of jobs in AI in California totaled about 8,500. But by 2030, this number is projected to reach about 12,000. During this time, California should see about 1,050 job openings in AI annually due to a blend of new job creation and normal turnover.

According to the Brookings Institute, some of the top AI employers in California include:

Artificial Intelligence Jobs in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Irvine

Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming a powerhouse in nearly every sector of California’s economy, creating advanced solutions aimed at improving the speed and efficacy of business processes. AI jobs in California are just as diverse as you’d imagine, creating unique opportunities for professionals in computer science, engineering, robotics, business, and more.

The Bay area region, which consists of the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas, is the national leader for AI jobs, according to the Brookings Institution. Its AI sector is strengthened by some of the world’s top research universities, Stanford and the University of California Berkeley. It’s also home to leading companies like NVIDIA, Facebook, and Google that depend on AI research and development, along with many startups. And San Diego isn’t far behind. The Brookings Institution refers to this region as an “early adopter” for its AI activity. This major California region is marked by many research institutions, federal contractors, and private businesses.

Northern California

Southern California

AI Companies in San Francisco, San Diego, Palo Alto, and San Jose

According to the Forbes annual list of the top 50 AI companies in the world, no less than 35 were in California as of 2023:

  • Abnormal Security, San Francisco: email cyberattack detection
  • Adept, San Francisco: AI model developer
  • Anduril Industries, Costa Mesa: defense software
  • Anthropic, San Fransisco: AI model developer
  • Arize AI, Berkeley: data issue detection
  • Canvas, San Francisco: construction robots
  • AI, Palo Alto: chatbot application
  • Clari, Sunnyvale: sales software
  • Coactive AI, San Jose: data labeling software
  • Databricks, San Francisco: data storage and analytics
  • Descript, San Francisco: video and podcast editing
  • ai, Santa Clara: recruiting software
  • Farmwise Labs, Santa Clara: weeding tractors for farming
  • Glean Internal, Palo Alto: workplace search
  • Gong Sales, Palo Alto: software
  • Harvey, San Francisco: digital assistant for lawyers
  • Inflection, Palo Alto: AI model developer
  • Insitro, San Francisco: drug discovery
  • Ironclad, San Francisco: legal contract management
  • Midjourney, San Francisco: AI image generator
  • MosaicML, San Francisco: AI model training tools
  • Moveworks, Mountain View: automated IT support
  • Neeva, Mountain View: personalized search engine
  • Open AI, San Francisco: AI model developer
  • Pachama, San Francisco: forestry satellite data analysis
  • Scale AI, San Francisco: data labeling provider
  • Shield AI, San Diego: autonomous defense software
  • Snorkel AI, Redwood City: data labeling software
  • Surge AI, San Francisco: data labeling software
  • Tome, San Francisco: presentation creation software
  • AI, San Francisco: clinical trial forecasting
  • Vectra AI, San Jose: cyberattack detection
  • ai, San Francisco: disease detection
  • Weights & Biases, San Francisco: developer tools for AI
  • Writer, San Francisco: generative AI software

California is also home to major research institutions that are exploring AI’s power to improve society. For example, Stanford University’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence works to advance AI research, education, policy, and practice aimed at improving the human condition.

And the University of Southern California’s Center for AI in Society, a joint venture between the USC School of Social Work and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, uses AI to help low-resource communities in the country and across the world. Some of the projects here focus on pressing societal issues such as homelessness, suicide prevention, and substance abuse treatment and prevention.

AI Salary in San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), AI professionals in California, who fall under the broader category of computer and information research scientists, earned an average salary of $232,210 as of May 2022, making them the highest paid AI professionals in the nation. Oregon ranked second for mean salary for AI professionals, at $189,910 – nearly $43,000 below California.

AI professionals in the San Jose metro area (includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara) earned the highest median salary in the state, at $232,830, followed by those in the San Francisco metro area (includes Oakland and Hayward), at $214,190, and the Los Angeles metro area (includes Long Beach and Anaheim), at $171,040.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Master’s Degree and Certificate Courses in California and Online

There’s plenty of reasons to consider California for your AI degree. It’s one of the top states for the number of AI degrees on offer, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It’s also where you’ll find a nice selection of programs offered through partially or fully online formats, thereby allowing both aspiring and practicing AI professionals to earn the degree they need to propel their career from the comfort of their home.

AI bachelor’s degrees provide a solid foundation in math and science and a comprehensive overview of the field. Some of the foundational courses of these programs include linear algebra, calculus, probability, statistics, and programming. AI concepts and techniques include study in computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing.

AI master’s degrees and graduate certificate programs are designed to provide advanced study in AI as it relates to computer science, data science, engineering, business, and more. For example, the University of Southern California offers an MS in Computer Science in AI.

Many of these programs feature concentration options that allow students to personalize their AI graduate degree in areas like robotics, cybersecurity, autonomous systems, intelligent systems, and data science. AI engineering degrees often include concentration options in different areas of engineering, such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and biomedical engineering.

Still other master’s degrees in California provide a focus on AI through relevant research opportunities. For example, the University of California Santa Cruz offers an MS in Computer Science and Engineering with a research project in Machine Learning and AI.

And online master’s degrees in AI are growing in popularity, allowing students to earn their degree, regardless of their professional schedule or geographic location. For example, the University of San Diego offers an MS in Applied AI in a fully online format.

AI Computer Science Degree and Certificate Options in Los Angeles

Solve complex problems by designing specialized algorithms with a computer science master’s degree in AI:

AI Engineering Degree and Certificate Options in Santa Cruz and San Diego

Develop tools, systems, and processes, and learn to build AI models with a master’s degree in AI engineering:

University of Southern California (Private)

Viterbi School of Engineering,
Thomas Lord Department of Computer Science
Los Angeles, CA


university of southern california

MS in Computer Science - AI (on-campus)

Total Estimated Program Cost: $77,568

Also offers: Minor in AI Applications, BS in AI for Business

University of California Santa Cruz

Baskin School of Engineering
Santa Cruz, CA

university of california santa cruz

MS in Computer Science and Engineering-research project in Machine Learning and AI (on-campus)

Total Estimated Program Cost: $29,644 ($1,633 per credit out-of-state)

Only public AI master’s degree in California.

University of California San Diego

Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering
San Diego, CA

university of san diego

MS in Applied AI (online)

Total Estimated Program Cost: $27,750

Total tuition comes in at $24,909 below the state average for similar programs.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for computer information and research scientists. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, CareerOneStop. Figures are based on state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed November 2023.