Artificial intelligence in early learning: weird or warranted? – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

  • Lauren
  • June 22, 2020
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Siri, Cortana and Alexa have made friends with many young children, but do the kids know that Alexa isn’t a little person in a black speaker?Sure.But habitat may be as far as a child’s understanding of artificial intelligence goes, even though Netflix uses it to suggest what they might like to watch next.For the most part, it’s not something children learn alongside basic addition or even in their technology class. Few elementary schools teach the subject.That’s probably because there are so few curricula available.#apolloLink{color:#000;background-color:#F4BE11;text-shadow: none;padding: 8px 15px 10px;font-family: ‘Roboto’, sans-serif;font-weight: 600;border-radius:10px;}Read more about early childhood developmentDr. David Touretzky has set out to change that. He’s the founder and chair of the AI4K12 initiative, aimed at developing national guidelines for A.I. education and facilitating its instruction to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.”I looked at the national guidelines and there were just two sentences about A.I. and they were for 11th and 12th graders. I realized this was a problem,” he said.Touretzky is also a Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and lead author of the five core concepts of A.I. education.Students should learn that computers “perceive the world using sensors,” “can learn from data” and then use that data to create models for reasoning. On the ethical side, they should learn that it’s difficult to make A.I. applications “interact comfortably with humans,” and that it can both help and harm society.Those are topics Dr. April DeGennaro discusses with her elementary school students at Peeples Elementary School in Fayette County, Georgia. She’s one of the few teachers nationwide who teaches youngsters about A.I.She asks her students, “If you have a self-driving car, you want to be sure it recognizes a stop sign. So what do you want the computer to know about a stop sign? What is characteristic enough about stop signs to teach the machine?””Kids need to be part of that conversation. We’re not trying to make every child a coder, but we do want them to know that for machines to do an accurate job, they need to be fed the right information first,” she said.Teaching about A.I. in classrooms is far from a nationwide implementation, but with a world poised to adopt the technology to run everything from household appliances to self-driving cars, the need for those who understand it will soon be exponential.Of the 9,100 patents received by IBM inventors in 2018, nearly 18% were A.I.-related. And Tesla founder Elon Musk recently donated $10 million to fund ongoing research at the nonprofit research company OpenAI.”It’s the way computer science became a hot topic. Kids were seeing a lot of jobs in it, but they didn’t know anything about it, so they had to start from square one as adults. If we start early with A.I., it’s easier,” DeGennaro said.But starting early can be costly.Cozmo, a popular A.I. robot toy, costs $180. While it may be worth it, it’s a barrier for many children, and due to the shutdown, they can no longer access A.I. tools teachers like DeGennaro provide in their classrooms, out of pocket.But Touretsky changed that by recently offering an online simulation called Cloud Calypso, along with a tutorial. It’s free and only takes a computer and wifi connection to use.To introduce users to Cloud Calypso, ReadyAI, an A.I. education company for K-12 students, is running a “Funniest Robot Challenge” where users program the simulated robot to tell a joke.The A.I. part? The simulated robot uses speech recognition and can hold a conversation.”Kids should understand how A.I. works for the same reason we should understand electricity. The systems we use shouldn’t look like magic. A.I. is the new electricity,” Touretzky said.