From Alexa to movie recommendations to self-driving cars, AI is all around our kids. But do our kids really understand them? Our kids may use Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok far more than we do, but that does not mean they understand these new technologies and how they interact with our lives and our information.
I am not referring to the math or computer science that powers these technologies. Just like we do not need to be expert programmers to use the internet, our kids and families do not need to be computer experts to use, leverage, and be affected by artificial intelligence. And just like we do not need to be programmers to know that we should protect our privacy on the internet, we should not need to know calculus or other deep math to use AI effectively and help our kids safely interact with the AIs around them.
I have been working in AI for many years, and am also the mom of a 12-year-old. I have created an approach to teach AI to her and her friends, which I call the four Cs:
- Concepts: AIs operate on certain core concepts or big ideas. A great example is that all AIs need to learn, and what they learn determines how they behave. When kids learn these concepts, they start to understand what AIs can do (like answer questions) and what they cannot do (like feel emotions).
- Context: AIs are all around our kids. By linking the concepts to how AIs around them, like Alexa, work, kids can understand these devices and how to safely interact with them. They learn how to use the devices but also recognize that the devices are not human and should be treated carefully like any other computer.
- Capability: I have found that kids love building AIs! Since AIs learn and humans are often the teachers, kids can teach their own AIs and watch them get smarter. Kids also enjoy being able to see their imagination come to life in an AI that they created themselves. While having fun, they are also learning how to see AI in a realistic way, not with reverence or fear, but as a technology that they can use.
- Creativity: Teaching computer science or math to kids can sometimes be hard because it is abstract. It's so much more fun to build things and see them work. AI is great for this because the kids can build their own AIs, even as quickly as in the first hour that they start learning AI. I have taught over 2000 kids and they have built more than 500 AI projects that are their own ideas come to life. It also nicely ties the concepts and capabilities together, and kids can see how they can build their own versions of things they see around them, like chatbots and digital assistants.
I call these the Four C’s of AI Literacy. As AI grows all around us, kids will need AI literacy to navigate their daily lives. Check out the classes my team and I have created to teach kids AI.