Dubai: Studying the gains and pitfalls of living in a world increasingly powered by artificial intelligence (AI) will be at the heart of an ambitious new school programme in the UAE in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of the United States.
For the first time in the UAE and region, a three-year pilot project for an extra-curricular curriculum is all set for launch within the next few months at Dubai Heights Academy — a leading British school in Al Barsha South, for secondary students.
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Pupils will not only learn and build the latest software and hardware in AI literacy, but also study the ethical dimensions of this rapidly evolving technology that is penetrating more and more aspects of our lives — be it using filters for pictures clicked on mobile phones or for use in self-driving cars.
The programme will be supervised by Cynthia Breazeal, professor of media arts and sciences, and associate director of MIT Media Lab. Her robots have been recognised by TIME magazine’s ‘Best Inventions’ in 2008. In 2017, her award-wining ‘Jibo’ robot was featured on the cover. She is regarded as a pioneer in the field of social robotics and human-robot interaction.
Speaking exclusively to Gulf News on a recent video call from her Boston home, Breazeal said the Research & Development, project-based programme aims to position students as “responsible, creative and ethical designers” of AI-based solutions. “AI is rapidly changing industries, markets, products and services ... It’s impacting the fabric of our society. It’s really important that a far more inclusive citizenry knows how to understand this technology enough to use it responsibly. Children are growing up with [social media] ... So many of us are using these services without realising there is AI built under the hood. We want people to be aware of that,” Breazeal said.
What will the students learn?
Under the project, students will learn a customised version — unique to the project — of the popular programming language Scratch. They will also use MIT App Inventor that runs on Android devices and work on developing a robot kit in conjunction with Chromebooks. Students will study CT (computational thinking), the cornerstone computer science discipline that renders complex problems simple so that humans and computers can understand the possible solutions. This includes ‘pattern recognition’, looking for similarities among data, and writing algorithms — a step-by-step guide to solving a problem or task. Pupils will also learn skills such as ‘debugging’ to identify and remove software or hardware errors and practises like ‘tinkering’ to innovate and build on experimental models or prototypes.
Then there will be study of more advanced AI disciplines such as unsupervised machine learning, which allows AI to become more “creative”, as well as human-AI interaction. Students will learn about Gans (generative adversarial networks) where AI can be trained to come up with new content on its own. For example, Breazeal said, AI, after “training” on images of human faces, is now able to generate new images of faces of people who don’t exist. Artists can also use Gans for “style transfer” to give, say, a Van Gogh touch to a scene; or let AI “compose” music to the likes of Bach or Mozart.
Flip side to AI
But there is a “flip side” to Gans, Breazeal added, which students will also learn about. “These algorithms have got so good that you can start to manipulate images and audio of people that makes it look like it is them saying things they never said — these are called ‘Deep Fakes’. We will talk about Deep Fake and their spread on social media. It’s important for children to understand the intersection of AI and art but also the implications — positive and maybe not so positive — for society,” she said.
“We want to position students as designers and makers as we teach them about CT and AI, as well as the ethical ways; thinking through the societal implications, both good and potentially not good. Using real-world examples across many different disciplines and aspects of our lives — this is extremely relevant to the future.” ‘It’s super-engaging’
Breazeal added: “It’s novel how we’re weaving together all of these things in the programme. Our finding, as we’re piloting aspects of this programme in the US, and what we will be doing with Dubai Heights Academy, is that it’s super-engaging when you do it this way.”
At the end of the programme, there will likely be an MIT certificate of completion of sorts. Breazeal said there is an “active discussion” and “early conversations” regarding student certificates at the moment. “It is a unique curriculum combining AI literacy on a range of topics such as machine learning and natural language understanding with computational and design thinking, that would help democratise technology and help students make things that have value in various fields. It has to do with providing access and opportunity to children, including those with special needs, and teaching them how to use technology in a responsible manner.”