Finland has released a crash course in artificial intelligence (AI) to all European Union citizens. The release came as a sort of Christmas gift, and the course will be free-of-charge. The six-week program will be available for anyone to take, and the course was translated into every EU language. The course is not restricted by location, so individuals outside of the EU can take it as well. At the end of the year, Finland will relinquish the EU’s rotating presidency.
The course is popular in Finland, and more than 1 percent of the 5.5 million citizens of the nation signed up. The course is called Elements of AI, and it provides a way for individuals to learn the basics of artificial intelligence (AI). With the growing influence of AI technology in our society, it is important for people to be prepared and have a basic understanding.
Also working on the project is the University of Helsinki, which is Finland’s largest and oldest academic institution. They are joined by the Finland-based tech consultancy Reaktor.
The course is a $2 million project and a “civics course in AI,” according to Teemu Roos, a University of Helsinki associate professor in the department of computer science. He said that it is meant to help EU citizens become accustomed to the changing of the economy and increasing digitalization.
WIthin the course, elementary AI concepts are covered. It does not cover harder concepts such as coding.
“We have enormous potential in Europe but what we lack is investments into AI,” Roos said. That comes at a time when other nations such as China are pouring money into AI technology.
The project is financed by the Finnish Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment. According to officials, the course is meant for all EU citizens, no matter their age, education or profession.
Finland launched “The Elements of AI” back in 2018, and it has been extremely successful. It is the most popular course ever offered by the University of Helsinki. The university dates back to 1640, and the course has had over 220,000 students from more than 110 countries, according to Roos.
A quarter of the students who have enrolled are aged 45 and older, and about 40% are women. In what is often a male-dominated industry, the share of women among the Finnish participants is about 60%.
The course consists of several modules, and it lasts around 6 weeks full time. If it is taken at a slower pace, it will last about six months. The current languages are Finnish, English, Swedish and Estonian, and the university is set to translate it to the remaining 20 of the EU’s official languages. That should be completed within the next two years.
Megan Schaible is the COO of Reaktor Education, and she spoke about the collaboration between the company and the university. According to her, they are working together “to prove that AI should not be left in the hands of a few elite coders.”
Whoever passes the course will receive an official University of Helsinki diploma, and many EU universities could give credits for the course. If that is the case, students could include it in their curriculum.
Finland has become an important nation in the tech industry. Back in September, Google created the free-of-charge Digital Garage training hub in the capital. Its purpose is to help individuals find jobs, as well as entrepreneurs and children to increase their digital skills.
Elnaz Sarraf, CEO and founder of Roybi – Interview Series
Can you walk us through your journey, from growing up in Iran, to becoming an entrepreneur?
My childhood and Iranian heritage definitely play an important role in who I am today. My parents paid a lot of attention to my education at home and in school. My dad was a small business owner and was the face of our company outside of the home, while my mom took care of all the financial and operational aspects of our business at home, because as a woman in Iran, it would not have been acceptable for her to be involved directly in business negotiations. But the limitations imposed on women didn’t stop my parents from exposing me to every aspect of our business. My dad took me along to many of his meetings; observing the art of negotiating and conducting business deals fascinated me with both the business and social aspects of entrepreneurship.
While at home, I watched my parents manage the company together and discuss the financial elements of holding our business together and finding innovative ways to grow. My summers were always filled with extracurricular classes in the arts, engineering and science. I’m very grateful to my parents who exposed me to a diverse set of social and academic skills at an early age. When I was starting ROYBI, I knew that I have to do a variety of different tasks myself until the company grows. Because of my background in the arts and engineering, I was able to multitask on projects such as industrial design, website designs, coding, and presenting my ideas and vision for the company to investors and partners.
What was it that inspired you to design an AI-powered educational robot?
Our education system needs a fundamental change, and that change starts with early childhood education. It should no longer be a one-size-fits-all approach. Every child has his/her own unique set of skills and our focus needs to be on their individual capabilities. We saw a huge gap in this area and decided to use technology and specifically artificial intelligence to bring about change that can help children, parents, and teachers. We developed Roybi Robot to interact with children as young as 3-years-old because early childhood is the most critical age in a child’s growth and future success. We’re constantly engaged in thinking about the benefits of robotics and AI in early childhood education.
ROYBI teaches children languages and STEM skills by playing, what are some examples of games that children can play?
We use different methodologies to deliver our educational content. Some lessons are only based on conversations. By using our voice recognition technology, Roybi Robot can understand if the child is saying the correct word or not. If the answer is not correct, it encourages the child to repeat using playful and compassionate messages.
Also, lessons alternate between fun and educational to games that can be played by interacting with the buttons on Roybi Robot’s charging plate. This creates more involvement and encourages children to move their hands, body and gaze and stay engaged.
Facial detection and emotional detection are the primary focus of ROYBI AI. Can you discuss some of the technologies behind this?
We use several technologies to deliver our content. One important AI component is voice recognition. Based on what the child says during the lessons, we can understand their progress and interest and create our reports for parents and educators. Facial detection is being used to initiate a conversation with a child to say “Hello.” And we use emotion detection as social-emotional support for the child while interacting with Roybi Robot, the educational robot.
ROYBI was recently featured on the Cover of TIME Magazine ‘As One Of The Best Inventions of 2019’. How did it feel to see your product on the cover of one of the top magazines in the world?
We were shocked, excited, honored, and overwhelmed at the same time. We knew we were on something big that would change the world but receiving such amazing recognition and even getting featured on the cover of the magazine gave us so much encouragement to continue our path even stronger!
There have been some pilots with ROYBI in classrooms. Can you share some of the feedback that you’ve received from teachers?
Our content is created by teachers, and we’re hoping to pilot in schools in the next academic year. The teachers who work with us to create the lessons, give us direct feedback on what is needed most to encourage children to engage with our content.
You’ve stated that you want to see every child in the world hold a ROYBI in their hands, do you believe that this could become a possibility if the classroom pilots are a success?
Absolutely! We are on our way to provide learning both at home and classroom settings and we want to change the way our children learn. To do that, we will ensure to provide our Roybi Robot to as many children as possible and as you can imagine it is an ambitious mission. To make this happen, we also invite future partners, delegates, governments, investors, mentors, and anyone who shares the same passion as us, to give us a hand, so together we can change the world for our children!
ROYBI recently acquired kidsense.ai, what was the purpose behind this acquisition? Was it to simply offer more language options?
The recent acquisition happened as a strategic decision to make ROYBI’s technology even more accessible to all children around the world. With this acquisition, ROYBI becomes a leader in voice recognition AI that is specifically developed for children. As part of this proprietary technology, we can now accelerate language development efforts as well.
What would you tell women who feel that AI and tech are dominated by men and that it’s not an even playing field for them?
It is time to change this! Put your best effort at work. You got this!
Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs who feel that it is more difficult for them to be taken seriously and to receive funding than their male counterparts?
The only limitation is in your own thoughts. There is no limit for what you can achieve no matter how difficult a situation may seem. You will find support from many people around you who share a similar passion as you. I encourage women to engage and involve themselves more in technology and how it is and will affect our future generations.
To make the change happen, first, we need to start by ourselves and continue it together!
Do you have anything else that you would like to share?
As part of growing ROYBI globally, we are continuously looking for partnerships with schools, government entities, and foundations to help us make Roybi Robot and education more accessible around the world and to every child regardless of their location or family income status. If you believe you can help us in our mission, reach out to us at email@example.com
Elnaz Sarraf is an inspiration to women and minorities, and shows that they too can be a success. Please visit the Roybi website to learn more or to order a Roybi Robot for a young child.
AI Model Can Predict How Much Students Are Learning
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) model that is capable of predicting the amount students are learning in educational games. The model relies on multi-task learning, an AI training concept where one model performs multiple tasks. The system can help improve instruction and learning outcomes.
Jonathan Rowe is the co-author of the paper detailing the work and a research scientist in North Carolina State University’s Center for Educational Informatics (CEI).
“In our case, we wanted the model to be able to predict whether a student would answer each question on a test correctly, based on the student’s behavior while playing an educational game called Crystal Island,” says Rowe.
“The standard approach for solving this problem looks only at overall test score, viewing the test as one task,” he continues. “In the context of our multi-task learning framework, the model has 17 tasks — because the test has 17 questions.”
The researchers used gameplay and testing data from 181 students. The AI analyzed the gameplay of each student and how they answered Question 1 on the test. The AI learned the common behaviors of the students who answered Question 1 correctly, and it then learned the behaviors of those who answered it incorrectly. With this data, the AI was able to determine how a new student would answer Question 1.
The function is performed at the same time for every question. While the gameplay that is reviewed for a student is the same, the AI studies the behavior in the context of Question 2, Question 3, etc.
The multi-task approach was successful and made a difference. The multi-task model was around 10 percent more accurate than the other models that used conventional AI training methods.
Michael Geden is the first author of the paper and a post-doctoral researcher at NC State.
“We envision this type of model being used in a couple of ways that can benefit students,” he says. “It could be used to notify teachers when a student’s gameplay suggests the student may need additional instruction. It could also be used to facilitate adaptive gameplay features in the game itself. For example, altering a storyline in order to revisit the concepts that a student is struggling with.
“Psychology has long recognized that different questions have different values,” Geden continues. “Our work here takes an interdisciplinary approach that marries this aspect of psychology with deep learning and machine learning approaches to AI.”
Andrew Emerson is the co-author of the paper and a Ph.D. student at NC State.
“This also opens the door to incorporating more complex modeling techniques into educational software — particularly educational software that adapts to the needs of the student,” Emerson says.
The paper is titled “Predictive Student Modeling in Educational Games with Multi-Task Learning,” and it will be presented at the 34th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence that is set to take place between Feb. 7-12 in New York, N.Y. The co-authors of the paper were James Lester, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science and director of CEI at NC State, as well as Roger Azevedo of the University of Central Florida.
The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
New AI Curriculum Designed for Middle School Students
A new curriculum has been designed by MIT researchers and collaborators to teach middle school students about artificial intelligence (AI). It aims to bring awareness of the technology to the sector of the population which is growing about surrounded by AI.
The open-source educational material was piloted at Massachusetts STEM week in the fall of 2019. It covers aspects of the technology such as how AI systems are designed, ways they can be used to influence the public, and their role within the future job market.
Back in October during Mass STEM Week, many middle schools within the commonwealth had a change in curriculum. There was an immersive week of hands-on learning, and it was led by a team consisting of Cynthia Breazeal, associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT; Randi Williams ‘18, graduate research assistant in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab; and i2 Learning, a nonprofit organization.
“Preparing students for the future means having them engage in technology through hands-on activities. We provide students with tools and conceptual frameworks where we want them to engage with our materials as conscientious designers of AI-enabled technologies,” Breazeal says. “As they think through designing a solution to address a problem in their community, we get them to think critically about the ethical implications of the technology.”
The idea to bring awareness of the technology to young students began three years ago with the Personal Robots Group. They started a program meant to teach AI concepts to preschoolers, and it then spread to other learning experiences and more children. Eventually, the group developed a curriculum for middle school students. An AI curriculum was piloted in Somerville, Massachusetts last Spring.
“We want to make a curriculum in which middle-schoolers can build and use AI — and, more importantly, we want them to take into account the societal impact of any technology,” says Williams.
The curriculum is called How to Train Your Robot, and it was first piloted during an i2 summer camp in Boston. It was then presented to teachers by students during Mass STEM Week, and some of the teachers took part in two days of professional development training. The training was aimed at preparing the teachers to give more than 20 class hours of AI content to students. The curriculum was used within three schools across six classrooms.
Blakeley Hoffman Payne, a graduate research assistant in the Personal Robots Group, was responsible for some of the work in the AI curriculum. Payne’s research focuses on the ethics of artificial intelligence and how to teach children to design, use, and think about AI. Students took part in discussions and creative activities, such as designing robot companions and deploying machine learning to solve problems. Students then shared their inventions with their communities.
“AI is an area that is becoming increasingly important in people’s lives,” says Ethan Berman, founder of i2 Learning and MIT parent. “This curriculum is very relevant to both students and teachers. Beyond just being a class on technology, it focuses on what it means to be a global citizen.”
One of the projects involved students building a “library robot” that was designed to locate and retrieve books for people with mobility challenges. Students had to take things into account such as how the technology would affect the job of a librarian and how it impacts the work.
The curriculum could be expanded to more classrooms and schools, and other disciplines could be added. Some other possible disciplines include social studies, math, science, art, and music, and the ways in which these can be implemented into the AI projects will be explored.
“We hope students walk away with a different understanding of AI and how it works in the world,” says Williams, “and that they feel empowered to play an important role in shaping the technology.”
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