Hey Alexa, what should students learn about artificial intelligence?

Students at the Dearborn STEM Academy in Boston learn how to program Alexa, the company’s virtual assistant, during a workshop led by Amazon on May 18, 2023. (Sophie Park/The New York Times)

BOSTON — Rohit Prasad, a senior executive at Amazon, sent an urgent message to ninth- and 10th-graders at Dearborn STEM Academy in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

He visited campus one morning recently to witness an Amazon-sponsored course on artificial intelligence that teaches students how to program simple tasks for Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant. In addition, the administrator assured Dearborn students that there will soon be millions of new jobs in artificial intelligence.

Prasad, Alexa’s chief scientist, told the class: “We need to build talent for the next generation. So, we teach about AI [inteligencia artificial] From the initial and grassroots level.

A few miles away, Sally Kornbluth, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), gave a more sobering message on artificial intelligence to local school students gathered on the Kennedy Library campus.Boston, a workshop on the risks and regulation of artificial intelligence.

Kornbluth said: „Because AI is such a powerful new technology, it needs some rules to make it work well in society. So we need to make sure that what can’t be done is harmful.”

The same day’s events — one promoting artificial intelligence work, the other warning against rushing the technology — are a reflection of a broader debate about the promise and potential of the technology currently taking place in the United States. The potential danger of artificial intelligence.

High school student Ira Rodriguez talks with a volunteer about Alexa skills during an “Artificial Intelligence Day” event hosted by Amazon Future Engineer.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

High school student Ira Rodriguez speaks with a volunteer during an „Artificial Intelligence Day” event organized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Initiative for Community Empowerment and Education in collaboration with Amazon Future Engineer.

The MIT Initiative on „Responsible Artificial Intelligence,” which includes donors Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, also organized two student workshops. Additionally, both underscore a question that has plagued school districts across the country this year: How should schools prepare students to live in a world where the rise of AI-powered tools seems almost inevitable, according to some leading AI developers?

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Teaching artificial intelligence in schools is not new. Courses such as computer science and civics now include exercises on the impact of facial recognition and other automated systems on society.

However, the push for AI education took on more urgency this year after news of ChatGPT (a new chatbot that can create nearly human-like homework essays and sometimes fabricate false information) started circulating in schools.

Now “AI literacy” is a new buzzword in education. Schools are looking for resources to teach it. Some universities, tech companies, and nonprofits are responding with pre-planned curricula.

Lessons abound even as schools wrestle with a fundamental question: Should educational institutions teach students to use code and artificial intelligence tools and provide the tech skills training employees seek? Or should students learn to anticipate and mitigate the impact of artificial intelligence?

Cynthia Breazeale, a professor at MIT who leads the university’s initiative on social empowerment and responsible artificial intelligence for education, said her project sought to help schools do both.

Breazeale, who organized AI workshops for schools, said: “We want students to be informed and responsible users and informed and responsible designers of these technologies. We want to make you informed and responsible citizens about these rapid developments in artificial intelligence and the many ways they impact our personal and professional lives.”

The workshops in Boston were part of an „Artificial Intelligence Day” event organized by the Breazeal project that drew thousands of students from around the world. It presents the different approaches schools are taking to AI in education.

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At Dearborn STEM, Hila Barbot, senior product manager for Amazon Future Engineer, the company’s computer science education program, gave students a lesson on voice artificial intelligence. MIT partnered with the Amazon program to create Lessons, which offers programming and other programs for schools in kindergarten through the last grade of high school. The institute awarded more than $2 million in grants to MIT for the project.

First, Barbot explained some lexicon of voice artificial intelligence. She taught students about „expressions,” phrases consumers can say to ask Alexa to answer questions about Japanese manga characters. He added: „I think it’s great that you’re training her to do different things.”

Breazal said it’s important for students to have access to professional software tools from the biggest tech companies. He said: „We’re giving them future proof skills and perspectives on how they can work with AI to do the things that matter to them.”

Some Dearborn students, who have already built and programmed robots at school, said they appreciate the voice-activated assistant bots learning how to program other technology. Alexa uses a variety of artificial intelligence techniques, including automatic speech recognition.

At least some students cited privacy concerns and other issues about AI-assisted tools.

Ebonie Maxwell, a ninth-grader, questioned: „Did you know there’s a conspiracy theory that Alexa listens to your conversations in order to show you ads?”

Ninth grader Lania Sanders responded: „I’m not afraid of being asked.” However, Sanders avoided using voice assistants because „I prefer to do it myself.”

A few miles away, Edward M. At the Kennedy Institute, an education center that houses a full-scale replica of the United States Senate chamber, dozens of students from the Warren Prescott School in Charlestown, Massachusetts, are exploring a different topic: artificial intelligence policy and security standards.

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Role-playing as senators from various states, high school students participated in a mock hearing in which they debated provisions for a hypothetical AI defense bill.

Some students wanted to ban companies and police departments from using artificial intelligence to target people based on data such as their race or ethnicity. Others wanted to require schools and hospitals to assess the integrity of AI systems before implementing them.

This exercise is not unknown to high school students. Nancy Arsenold, a professor of literature and civics at Warren Prescott, said she often asks her students to consider how digital tools affect them and the people they love.

Arsenault concluded: “As much as students love technology, they are well aware that unbridled artificial intelligence is not something they want. They want there to be limits.”

c.2023 The New York Times Company

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