TEACHING KIDS ABOUT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Kids today have grown up surrounded by artificial intelligence — so much that they’re the first generation of AI natives. But just because they’ve used AI doesn’t mean they understand it or know how it works. So much goes into responsibly making and using AI tools and understanding the nuances they present. Since AI will only become more prevalent in the future, we must give growing kids the tools needed to navigate an evolving tech landscape.

Teaching kids about artificial intelligence can help them understand the inherent biases and risks within the technology and provide them with valuable skills for the workplace. There’s a lot to unpack when learning how to teach kids about AI, so let’s look a little more closely at this powerful tool and how to help kids play with artificial intelligence.

Why Is It Crucial to Teach Kids About Artificial Intelligence?

AI refers to computers’ ability to perform tasks typically associated with intelligent beings, mimicking human actions such as processing language, pictures, speech, faces, and patterns, plus planning, problem-solving, and learning. We use artificial intelligence every day — from our perfectly curated music playlists to the built-in navigational phone apps that get us to our destinations. It also plays a vital role in many commercial areas, like industrial machine learning, which supports multimillion-dollar operations. 

Even though today’s kids are digital and AI natives, the way they view AI can have significant ramifications for their interactions with technology in the future. Having a comprehensive understanding of AI lays the groundwork for a future in technology. Consider that by 2030, McKinsey estimates that as much as 14% of the workforce will need to switch occupations thanks to automation. Preparing kids for this AI revolution by teaching them to use it effectively can give them a leg up in future employment.

Why should kids learn about AI? First, let’s discuss a few questions that often come up regarding AI education.

  • How do you explain artificial intelligence to a child? You might think you need to start from the ground up, but you may also be surprised by how much your kids already know about AI. Depending on their ages, they might understand that it’s trying to sell you something or show you a specific ad. They probably understand how algorithms work, like Google’s autocompleting features and suggested videos on YouTube. Ask them questions about how they think AI works. The first goal is to help them recognize it in the world around them, creating a connection and motivation to learn more. 
  • How does learning about AI impact their futures? As AI becomes increasingly prevalent, kids will benefit from understanding how it works and why. Is it trying to sell them something or help them finish a specific task? Knowing the answers to these questions helps them be responsible consumers of these digital tools and understand how to use them better. Of course, it also gives them valuable skills for the future, so they can avoid losing work to robots.

You’ll also want to teach kids what AI is and isn’t. Be sure to enforce that AI is a tool, not an entity, even though some businesses might give it a name and a face. Children should eventually see that it is not inherently good or bad. AI’s possibilities are virtually endless, and kids should know that AI is a tool used by someone to accomplish a goal or solve a problem.

Teaching kids about AI allows you to pull back the curtain on this system and demystify it. AI becomes less of an unknown, and kids can think more critically about it.

Helpful Resources for Teaching Kids About AI and How to Make It Fun

Despite AI’s complexity, there are plenty of tools to break it down and teach children how it works.

Experiments With Google

Google has an enormous collection of resources for teaching AI to kids. You can set up many of these in a classroom or home, but for those on a budget or lacking technical experience, some of the videos still offer explanations and examples showing AI in action. These can be a little advanced, so they may be best for older students.

Consider this video on neural networks and how image recognition processes work, or this experiment using something called GPT-2 and AI writing to help with character development in a freeform sandbox environment with generated responses. You could also use this teachable machine experiment to help students see the process of “training” computers to see what they see.

Teaching Kids Machine Learning

Machine Learning for Kids is another helpful tool for seeing how “training” works. Students have a guided environment and hands-on experience teaching a machine learning system how to achieve its goals. This platform is an excellent way for students to see the work and creativity that goes into creating an AI. They must provide all the elements the AI learns from and informs its decisions with.

The Intelligent Paper

This activity, which is ideal for groups and individual children, pits human vs. AI in a classic tic-tac-toe game. The AI isn’t digital at all — instead, it’s a list of written instructions. You tell the kids that the directions are on the world’s smartest piece of paper, and start a tic-tac-toe game between the child and someone else carrying out the paper’s instructions. This activity should result in the human winning or in a draw and offers a jumping-off point to discuss the differences between AI and programming.

Robots

If your students have worked with robots in the past, there’s a good chance you can use this to explain AI. For instance, most robot toys will run off the edge of a table if left unattended, but something like the Cozmo robot will stop and turn around thanks to its intelligence features. You may also discuss aspects of “personality” these robots show, like happiness or grumpiness. Is it AI or standard programming? The answer isn’t very clear-cut, so it’s a great discussion point for students.

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