Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of machines to learn from experience, without explicit programming, in order to perform cognitive functions associated with the human mind. It is an overarching discipline – a form of intelligence, a type of technology and a field of study.
AI is already impacting almost every part of our lives, from the way we consume information and connect with our friends, to the services we access and the products we are sold. However, while the impact of AI is undeniable, the degree to which it influences us depends on a variety of factors such as the country we are born in, our gender, and even our age. Thus, even though AI is everywhere, the opportunity to benefit from it and shape it is not. Youth, and in particular young girls, are not equipped with the right skills and resources to understand what AI is, how it is designed, and why it is so important in today’s digital world.
Moreover, many young people don’t yet fully grasp the key role they can play in shaping AI.
Early childhood education sets the stage for future academic success, a meaningful career, and a happy, fulfilling life. These formative years are essential for creating an environment where children learn the foundational skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century. Given the growing importance of AI across different industries and fields and how ubiquitous the technology has become in recent years, designing a curriculum that helps children understand the basics of AI (e.g. Elements of AI), taught from an early age, is essential.
Why Young People Should Learn More About AI
There are several reasons to teach children about AI and its many implications:
From a societal perspective, teaching youth AI skills will help them become more aware of the ethical & moral implications of the technology. Learning about morality and ethics, and why it is important to embed them in a piece of software or a robot can help children grow into more conscious developers, which will hopefully develop less biased technologies.
From an inclusion perspective, teaching young girls about technology, and AI in particular, from an early age, can increase the likelihood that they will study computer science in college or pursue a career in technology later on. This could help diversify the tech industry as a whole, which in turn could help tech companies design more inclusive technologies.
From a vulnerability perspective, teaching young people about the challenges AI can pose to individuals and society at large, be it the online safety risks, or the dangers that come with tracking people’s online behavior and using it to design more addictive experiences & apps, can help youth become better informed citizens & more conscious consumers of technology.
Young people are more malleable and impressionable than adults, so teaching them about the ethical & moral implications of AI-powered technologies, as well as the online safety risks posed by them, will keep them safe and motivate them to shape the future of AI. However, before helping shape the technology’s future, by learning about AI more broadly, and understanding how algorithms are designed and function, children can acquire various skills.
Exposing children to technical concepts early in life can stimulate their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, which according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report top the list of skills employers believe will grow in prominence in the next five to ten years. These skills in particular have been consistently growing in importance since the Forum launched its first Jobs Report in 2016, as they are essential across industries and sectors.
Today’s world is run by data, and AI-powered technologies rely heavily on it. So, given the prevalence of big data, by understanding how it is collected, stored and structured, and by learning how to analyse & interpret data sets, youth can improve their decision-making skills. Also, by learning how big data systems work, and by becoming familiar with how they are incorporated into AI-powered technologies, young people can develop their own AI projects.
By creating apps and games using precoded code blocks through platforms like PictoBox, children develop their creativity and a solution-oriented mindset from an early age. Moreover, coding has been shown to help children become outside-of-the-box thinkers, a skill they can use later in life to come up with innovative ideas and turn them into successful businesses. Coding can in turn lead to the birth of a whole new generation of young tech entrepreneurs.
Educating Young People to Use AI Responsibly
However, teaching children about AI is not an easy feat, and all relevant stakeholders need to step up and develop frameworks and toolkits to educate young people about the responsible use of AI, and empower them with AI skills to shape the technology’s future.
Generation AI, a project launched by the World Economic Forum that is part of its Shaping the Future of Technology Governance: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Platform aims to achieve just that, by bringing together a multistakeholder community of governments, academics, businesses, civil society organizations, and youth representatives o develop best practices for the governance of AI used by children and young people. Moreover, there are initiatives being launched across the world by technology companies
with the purpose of teaching youth AI skills and better preparing them for the future of work.
Intel is one of the technology companies that over the past few years has rolled out various AI-readiness programs targeted at young generations. One such program, Intel AI for Youth, equips the next-generation (13-19-year-olds) with AI & social skills in an inclusive way, developing the necessary skill-sets & mindsets to better prepare them for the future of work. The program is delivered through public-private partnerships between the company (Intel), governments, and academia in 15 countries, and the curriculum, which is based on experiential methodologies, is delivered by Intel certified coaches. The students learn
various AI tech skills (data science, computer vision, natural language processing, etc.), social skills (ethics and bias understanding, systems thinking, etc.), and build projects to solve real-life problems. An excellent example of an AI project is an AI-powered tool that screens students for depression based on their facial recognition and a questionnaire, and then encourages them to seek counseling, which was developed by three girls in India. Psychologists have already validated the AI-powered tool, which is now being expanded to more schools across India (see other case studies that came out of the program here).
In an ideal world, every child should be excited about the many possibilities AI can unlock – for themselves, for their communities and for society. However, in order for more children to have the opportunity to learn about AI & help shape the development of the technology itself, education should evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly technology-driven world. Teaching children about technology, society, and ethics should be the foundation of curricula in educational institutions across the world that aim to better prepare the next generation for a more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (a.k.a. VUCA) future of work.
Written by David Timis, YGC 2020, and Anshul Sonak.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Forbes România.