How AI works: An introduction coming to a school near you


Students from elementary to high school can take a course in AI and its societal and ethical implications offered within the year by the Microsoft and Code.org partnership.

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The critical importance of tech skills across industries sends a clear signal: In order to meet the expectations of future administrators and employers, elementary to high school students will need to learn expertise unavailable to their parents’ generation. Today’s leading innovation technology is machine learning, and to address the need for this vital skill set, the latest offering from the longtime partnership of Microsoft and code.org is a new course in artificial intelligence (AI) and its societal and ethical implications designed for students in elementary and high school.

AI’s relevance cannot be understated, as it is the very basis for self-driving cars, but it also powers devices we’ve already become accustomed to, such as Amazon Alexa, interactive programming, telemed appointments, and online learning.

More about artificial intelligence

According to a code.org blog post, “AI has the potential to play a major role in addressing global problems, such as detecting and curing diseases, cleaning oceans, eliminating poverty, or harnessing clean energy.”

Those are some very big responsibilities to be tackled by Gen Z. As code.org points out,despite the great benefits to society, the ethical impact can’t be ignored: “How does algorithmic bias impact social justice or deep fakes impact democracy? How does society cope with rapid job automation? By learning how to consider the ethical issues that AI raises, these future computer scientists will be better able to envision the appropriate safeguards that help to maximize the benefits of AI technologies and reduce their risks.”

The Microsoft/code.org course was made possible by a $7.5 million donation from Microsoft.

SEE: CompTIA’s 10 trends for 2021. No. 1: There is no normal. (TechRepublic)

Starting this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and leading technologists throughout the enterprise and academia are featured in a new “How AI works” video series on AI (there are currently seven videos on YouTube), starting with Nadella on an “Intro to AI,” and followed by videos on machine learning, training data and bias, neural networks, computer vision and “Ethics and AI: Equal access and algorithmic bias.”

A tutorial called AI for Oceans Worldwide (AFOW) for grades 3 and higher will soon launch on mobile devices, and will be available in more than 25 languages. Classroom lesson plans (Lesson 5 for grades 6 to 12) will give students insight into “the societal and ethical implications of AI” that is accompanied by a computer sciences (CS) principles curriculum lesson tackling machine learning and bias (Lesson 6). One video explores “Making the visual world more accessible,” followed by “Fighting bias in algorithms,” “Machine learning and human bias,” “Moral Code: The ethics of AI,” “Machine learning: Solving problems big, small and prickly,” “What is machine learning?,” “How does your phone know this is a dog?, and “What is artificial intelligence or machine learning?

A table for AFOW looks at the available activities powered by AI and ML, and another on Teach and learn about AI.

There are also plans for next year: Code.org will incorporate AI and machine learning into its CS Discoveries computer science curriculum for sixth- to 10th-grade students. Code.org will add the courses to the App Lab, the organization’s platform designed to help middle and high school students learn to develop apps.

To fulfill its aim to “democratize access to learning AI,” the AI educational materials from outside sources will be open sourced for students and teachers.

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