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AI is shaping the world, who will be shaping AI?

Hear from the young people themselves

The future may be uncertain, but one certainty is that today’s youth will be central to shaping it.

Acorn Aspiration’s mission is to empower and assist teens in learning and shaping the future of AI for positive contributions to the world. More than 1500 young people have participated in Acorn’s Bootcamps/Hackathons, Accelerator programs, and conferences to date.

Acorn’s latest initiative, TeensInAI, was launched at the UN AI for Good Summit in May, and followed by a 5-day Bootcamp/ Hackathon. The 40 teenagers aged 12-18 who attended spent the first three days (Bootcamp section) learning for the first time about the AI and its possibilities, as well as its ethics. Experts in AI also attended to inspire and teach the participants. The final two days (Hackathon section) consisted of the teenagers being challenged to design and develop projects that use AI to reach some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example climate change, gender equality, and mental health. The two winning teams were able to present their projects at the CogX 2018 conference.

The topic of shaping the future of AI, and those who will do it, was also a subject of panel discussion at the recent CogX 2018 conference in London. Acorn founder Elena Sinel moderated the panel, which featured four teens who have worked with Acorn and help formulate its programming.

Kiran Arun (16), Tiffany Igharoro (12), Lowena Hull (16), and Peter He (17) each shared their perspectives on the future of AI.

Perspectives from the panel

Panellist Kiran Arun left school at the age of 15 because he found the curriculum content outdated, the pace of learning too slow, and that school learning was focused on passing the paper rather than learning the skill. The school structure of being dictated facts in order to just pass an exam was not the best use of his time.

Upon leaving, Kiran pursued his interest in machine learning, first on a purely exploratory basis and then through taking a ML MicroMasters course.  Following that Kiran designed the entire curriculum for Acorn’s AI Bootcamp and Accelerator. Kiran currently helps lead these courses as part of the Acorn Aspirations team. From his perspective, Kiran believes: learning should be focused on fundamentals and modern tooling; students should learn at their own pace (to the extent that is possible); and that learning style – such as project based – is key.

Panelist Tiffany Igharoro, who placed 4th in a Maths Olympiad among London schools and won an IQ-based scholarship from a field of 20,000 applicants, also was on one of the winning teams from the recent Teens In AI Hackathon.  Tiffany’s panel discussion was entitled “AI ethics – who’s to blame when things go wrong”, a subject about which she is passionate. It is said that AI will either become humanity’s greatest achievement or humanity’s greatest downfall. Tiffany outlined how things could easily go wrong and move into the opposite direction than intended AI-wise, for example it could simply deepen issues we are facing today. Tay, an otherwise harmless AI-modelled teen project from Microsoft AI became negatively influenced within hours through data received from Twitter, is a current example of this.   As we have seen, if data is biased, negative or destructive then AI will turn out that way. AI needs to be ethical, to be managed in a moral, responsible and independent way in order to guide it towards working for rather than against society.

Panelist Lowena Hull focused on how jobs will continue to change in her talk entitled  “Will AI take away my job?”. Lowena, who at age 13 won the national Astro Pi competition and whose code has enabled space station photos of the earth that are used to study algal bloom, believes that almost all jobs will be impacted by AI, but that not all jobs will disappear.

While automated self-service tills and factory-line robots have already reduced employment, other traditional jobs such as tax, insurance, legal, medical, engineering and teaching will be impacted.  A reduction in manual and physical jobs is anticipated, whereas an increase of 55% in higher skilled technology jobs is also foreseen. Lowena believes jobs will be less focused on memorisation – which is the current focus of school-based learning- and more about problem solving.  Global teamwork, continuous improvement, flexibility, freelancing and tech-based skills will all be key.

Finally, panelist Peter He (a finalist at a Google science fair, editor at young scientist journal and a researcher for multiple optimization deep neural networks) spoke about preparing for the unfolding future in his talk about surprises in the future. He elaborated on how one can never prepare for change; it happens quickly and spontaneously. Quoting historian AJP Taylor, Peter talked about how “Nothing is inevitable until it happens”. The youngest member of King’s College IoT Lab and an AI researcher, Peter spoke about three essential elements to help us to prepare for the unpredictable future of AI: education, understanding each other, and being careful. He also elaborated on how the public need to be better educated on what AI actually is as fake news has caused many misconceptions to have been spread; “how can we get the public to join our ethical debates if they don’t even know what AI is?”.He also discussed how the education is flawed and highly outdated- catering mostly the needs and skills of students from the second or third industrial revolution. Therefore, the schooling system must be updated to teach at least a basic level of awareness about AI and modern technology.

Four at Once- An Open Discussion

Following the individual presentations, the panel as a whole were asked to comment on questions about education, the importance of soft skills, and AI’s highest purpose and usage.

Asked what the educational system needs to do to produce real world value, the panelists offered a large range of thoughts, from starting totally afresh, to focusing on collaborative learning, to project-based work where students engage and rise to the challenge. The role of the teacher, whether as enforcer or information provider or educational guide was also discussed.

In relation to soft skills-problem solving, creativity and networking were all highlighted.

Lastly, asked “where do you want AI to take over?”, the panelists answered with an array of varying responses: Lowena wants to get rid of politicians; Tiffany would like it to help people and give them skills and services that they may not already have. She also described how AI would be really beneficial to the medical industry, as it would have the ability to look through a large amount of data very quickly to find trends and patterns, and therefore be much more efficient than a human. Kiran however said he wants to focus on helping the world in general rather than focus on helping people.

Also published on Medium.

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