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How To Explain Artificial Intelligence(AI) to Children?

Today’s kids are the first generation to grow up in a world with artificial intelligence. 

Let’s imagine, you are a child whose parents just signed them up for a course in Artificial Intelligence. 

Most of all, you only know artificial intelligence along the lines of ‘robots and things’.

But as grownups, we understand everything will be AI powered in the near future and it must be a key area of focus for young innovators. To prepare your child for an AI-powered future, you need to pull back the curtain on Artificial Intelligence and help kids understand where and how it influences their lives.

Overall, artificial intelligence can be a tricky concept to pin down. 

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the ability of machines and computers to do things that exhibit traits associated with human intelligence. In other words, it is the simulation of intelligence associated with a human mind. For instance, attributes like processing language, learning, understanding pictures, detecting patterns and problem-solving.

The ideal characteristic of artificial intelligence is its ability to rationalize and take actions that have the best chance of achieving a specific goal. These attributes are now being applied in applications – from recommending videos and purchases to self-driving cars.

The term may also be applied to any machine that is programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions.

So, what is a good way to explain Artificial Intelligence to Children?

How to Explain AI to Children?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be daunting for many, let alone for children. 

Because of this, it is essential to explain it easily using concrete examples which your child can understand. 

This can be easily achieved in three easy steps; Explain, provide real-world examples and point them towards fun resources which they can explore.

Getting Started – 

Motivations  – “The Why.”

Include a bit of history. Giving children the historical context and motivations for the technology they are using every day, helps them think, connect and learn more deeply.

It makes sure they understand that before these devices existed, they were just a crazy idea someone dreamed of. It also ensures that children imagine themselves in the shoes of developers, creators and inventors to understand how they were once just kids.

For example, ask a child ‘Why do computers exist?’

Followed by,

  • Why did they want better machines?
  • Before we had the technology to do these tasks for us, how were these tasks done?
  • How would you imagine and build something that doesn’t exist yet?

Curiosity – “The What.” 

Children are curious and cherish exploring and experimenting with how different things work.

Give permission and encourage your child to ask the right questions such as “Why?,” “What?,” and “How?.” Lead them by demonstrating what the right kind of questions feel like by converting them to stories and concepts they are familiar with.

For example, “What is Artificial Intelligence?”

It’s sometimes easier to understand a concept by imagining the things that aren’t rather than things that are. It leads them to be intentionally curious.

Get started by asking questions like what is “artificial” and what is “intelligence.” 

So, what is Artificial Intelligence? Your child may answer along the lines of computers that think or smart machines.

Asking questions in parts makes it easier to explain what makes something artificial (human-made things, like computers, machines, technology, etc.); however, asking, “what is intelligence?” makes for a much better discussion and gets children to think.

Ultimately, if they can tell what we mean by intelligence and give a design for building it, it ensures they have a pretty solid and actionable understanding of artificial intelligence.

To test their overall understanding, you may ask questions like,

  • Does a stone or scissors have AI?
  • Does a cat have AI?

To get them thinking in the right direction, You may also ask questions like –

  • What is a flight?
  • If I throw a paper ball, will that be a flight?
  • What if it’s a paper aeroplane?
  • How did anyone even know flying was a thing?
  • How did we finally invent Aeroplanes?

Ideas – “The How.”

Show them in what ways they could dream, while emphasizing that if it really was that obvious and easy, someone would have done it by now. Start with relevant questions and projects. 

For example,

One thing that might make a computer artificially intelligent is being able to say whether the photo is of a dog or not out of the thousands of photos available on the internet.

Brainstorm and ask characteristics that could be used for identifying a dog in a picture. Maybe something like, 

  • Has a tail
  • Is furry
  • Is cute
  • Has whiskers
  • Has eyes
  • Is an animal

However, these aren’t the rules you can directly implement in a computer, but they get the idea across.

Out of the many photos, some may be easy to identify as dogs, some are dogs that are obscured or in funny poses and there may also be other animals that have some of the same characteristics. It will get the children thinking about – 

  • How to define the task to any machine?
  • Edge cases
  • What is the kind of rule one really needs?

A great way to teach about new technology is to focus on a goal, something you want to achieve. Most of all, discuss what kind of smart robots will be built in the future.

When you come across their suggestions, talk about what’s being already built in that area. It will help them connect to the developments taking place in the real world and take baby steps into the field in a fun yet effective way.

Wrapping Up

Now that we have discussed the top three ways to introduce artificial intelligence to children, it is equally important to adapt these approaches towards explaining AI to children.

As much as artificial intelligence and machine learning are the technologies of the future that are going to dominate the job market, it shouldn’t be the sole motivation to introduce these smart technologies to children, especially younger ones (9-12 years). It doesn’t have to intimidate children but rather be looked at from an angle of exploring new horizons, problem-solving, skill development, as well as preparing for the future.

Another major factor that you must consider is the interest level of the child. No two children learn the same way and understandably one cannot expect each child to have an interest in technology.

Therefore, introduce children to the idea of how these technologies work through creative exercise so that they can best navigate and consume the information better.

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