The age of artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived, changing the world around us in exciting and unpredictable ways. We are getting accustomed to AI and our children will be highly dependent on it. AI helps bring about new careers, discover new drugs, augment our senses, and influence both our interaction with the world and our understanding of it. One day, it may help us eradicate war, disease, and poverty. According to Max Tegmark, the President of the Future of Life Institute, AI systems could potentially trigger an intelligence explosion, leaving humans far behind.
Unfortunately, we cannot fully predict the effects of AI on society. The advancement of AI may lead to social manipulations on a massive scale, a proliferation of autonomous weapons, a heightened loss of privacy, and total surveillance by dictatorial states. Although AI-powered systems have a capacity to be much safer than the traditional ones that rely on human control, occasional mistakes could be devastating for a self-driving car, a robotic surgery, or an intelligent power grid. Due to such high stakes and the counter-intuitive nature of AI, it would be wise to have it introduced to children early, not only as an academic subject but also as a living experience.
Presently, students do not get exposure to AI concepts, challenges, and software applications at school. In response, innovative educators and education companies are taking it upon themselves to create AI curricula for middle and high school students, who can benefit from learning how to develop AI algorithms and recognize their performance failures due to biased data. One of these curricula is Inspirit AI, developed and run by Stanford and MIT alumni and graduate students. It offers “AI boot camps” for high school students from around the world. The company’s curriculum development is led by Daniela Ganelin, an MIT Computer Science graduate with a concentration in AI and years of local and international teaching experience.
A few companies are also aiming at providing smooth entry into the world of AI for younger students. One of the best known examples is the Teachable Machine by Google that allows children with no coding skills to train an AI program to recognize images, sounds, and poses while instantly observing the results of their choices. Online chatbots (AI conversational programs, such as Mitsuki) may serve as another gateway into the world of AI. Engaging and funny, chatbots demonstrate the successes and failures of AI in understanding human language.
Meanwhile, a growing array of AI-powered educational tools helps adjust the pace and complexity of instruction for each student. According to AI expert and Forbes contributor Ronald Schmelzer, “in the not too distant future, you can expect that AI and machine learning will be a core part of all educational experiences.”
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Ultimately, early introduction of AI is not limited to formal instruction. Just contemplating future scenarios of AI evolution provides plentiful material for engaging students with the subject. A survey on the future of AI, administered by the Future of Life Institute, is a great starting point for such discussions. Social studies classes, as well as school debate and philosophy clubs, could also launch a dialogue on AI ethics – an AI nurse selecting a medicine, an AI judge deciding on a criminal case, or an AI driverless car switching lanes to avoid collision.
Demystifying AI for our children in all its complexity while providing them with an early insight into its promises and perils will make them confident in their ability to understand and control this incredible technology, as it is bound to develop rapidly within their lifetimes.