Montreal non-profit seeks to educate 1 million kids about AI ethics

The curriculum seeks to teach kids about how AI uses personal data, and about bias that can be embedded into AI systems.

Kids Code Jeunesse will launch learning program across Canada this fall

Children at École Au Pied de la Montagne were the first in Canada to learn about ethics and artificial intelligence through a program created by Kids Code Jeunesse. (Kids Code Jeunesse)

A Montreal non-profit is teaching children about the ethical issues society faces as artificial intelligence takes up ever-growing space in our lives.

Since 2012, Kids Code Jeunesse has been going into classrooms showing students the fundamentals of computer programming.

Now, they're setting their sights on educating children about AI.

"Children are now born into a world where artificial intelligence is everywhere," said Kids Code Jeunesse CEO Kate Arthur.

"It's really important that they understand that it's not magic."

The curriculum seeks to teach kids about how AI uses personal data, and how bias can be embedded into AI systems. Since AI programs are created by people, they can pick up the biases of those who created them, and from the data that they are trained with.

The learning unit starts with a discussion about how artificial intelligence programs take in huge amounts of sorted data, from which it identifies patterns to sort new data on its own.

Then they start building applications in Scratch, a kid-friendly interface to learn how to code.

The students learned about bias in artificial intelligence by sorting images of puppies and ice cream into buckets. (Kids Code Jeunesse)

"I didn't even know that artificial intelligence was that strong," said nine-year-old Lydia Dandeneau. She was one of the students at École Au Pied de la Montagne who took part in the program's first pilot session on Wednesday.

"I think a lot of other kids should get this privilege of being able to explore [the] fascinating things we have seen," she said.

She says that while at first it might seem really hard, students who keep at it will be impressed with what you can create using this technology.

1 million kids by 2030

The non-profit already reaches about 150,000 young people across Canada through sessions in classrooms, libraries and other community spaces, Arthur said.

They're looking to bring that number up to 1 million over the next 10 years.

The curriculum was developed over eight months, in partnership with external researchers and educators both in Canada and abroad.

Through the pilot sessions in Montreal classrooms and teacher training sessions in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, they'll be fine-tuning the material before rolling out a two-hour unit on artificial intelligence in September.

From the use of artificial intelligence in state surveillance, to racial bias embedded in machine-learning programs, understanding the ethical issues embedded in this technology is a tough subject to tackle at any age.

The Kids Code curriculum uses more kid-friendly examples: ice cream and puppies.

The students learn that the computer must be trained to tell the difference between black and white puppies and chocolate chip ice cream.

If its training data is corrupted, then it won't put out accurate information.

"They can start to question, 'Oh, is that a puppy?'" Arthur said.

"They get lots of laughs and giggles and learning out of it."


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