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New AI Curriculum Designed for Middle School Students

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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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Alex McFarland is a historian and journalist covering the newest developments in artificial intelligence.

Education

Udacity Launches RPA Developer Nanodegree Program in Conjunction with UiPath

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Udacity, a global, online learning platform powering digital transformation and accelerated time-to-market initiatives for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 enterprises, today launched its Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Developer Nanodegree program in conjunction with UiPath, the leading enterprise robotic process automation software company.

Taught by industry-leading RPA experts, the Udacity RPA Developer Nanodegree program is designed to provide learners with the practical experience and resources needed to understand and facilitate RPA, which occurs when basic tasks commonly performed by humans are automated through software or hardware systems that function across a variety of applications.

The Nanodegree launch is part of the Udacity and UiPath RPA Insiders Virtual Conference: A Look Inside the Future of Technology, taking place today in front of an online audience of developers and engineers. Topics being addressed include “RPA Trends: What’s Real and What’s Hype?” and “How COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Need for RPA.” Guy Kirkwood, Chief Evangelist, UiPath, and JP Gownder, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester, are presenting as keynote speakers. During the conference, UiPath and Udacity will give away 50 RPA Developer Nanodegree programs to attendees.

“RPA is the next big opportunity that companies want to seize, and there’s a need for RPA developers who possess the skills to drive that opportunity forward,” said Gabe Dalporto, CEO, Udacity. “RPA is an extraordinary technology that is architected to reduce the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on employees, freeing up their time to focus on more substantive projects. Through our RPA Developer Nanodegree program, we’re empowering developers and engineers to strengthen their career paths and helping employers focus their teams to put their effort where it really matters.”

According to Grand View Research, the global RPA market is expected to reach almost $26 billion by 2027, opening the door for both businesses and professionals to capitalize on its benefits. Learners who enroll in the RPA Developer Nanodegree program will develop the knowledge and professional-level skills needed to develop and deploy business process automation, and will engage in hands-on learning with projects tailored to real-world scenarios that complement instructor-led sessions, including code reviews and scraping structured data.

“AI and automation will create millions of new jobs in the near future,” said Alok Shrivastava, UiPath Vice President of Learning Alliances. “We built UiPath on the promise to democratize RPA and train a global community of practitioners. Partnering with Udacity to develop the RPA Developer Nanodegree program furthers our commitment to empowering people with the in-demand automation skills to succeed in newly emerging careers and remain competitive in their current roles.”

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Huma Abidi, Senior Director of AI Software Products at Intel – Interview Series

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Photo By O’Reilly Media

Huma Abidi is a Senior Director of AI Software Products at Intel, responsible for strategy, roadmaps, requirements, machine learning and analytics software products. She leads a globally diverse team of engineers and technologists responsible for delivering world-class products that enable customers to create AI solutions. Huma joined Intel as a software engineer and has since worked in a variety of engineering, validation and management roles in the area of compilers, binary translation, and AI and deep learning. She is passionate about women’s education, supporting several organizations around the world for this cause, and was a finalist for VentureBeat’s 2019 Women in AI award in the mentorship category.

What initially sparked your interest in AI?

I’ve always found it interesting to imagine what could happen if machines could speak, or see, or interact intelligently with humans. Because of some big technical breakthroughs in the last decade, including deep learning gaining popularity because of the availability of data, compute power, and algorithms, AI has now moved from science fiction to real world applications. Solutions we had imagined previously are now within reach. It is truly an exciting time!

In my previous job, I was leading a Binary Translation engineering team, focused on optimizing software for Intel hardware platforms. At Intel, we recognized that the developments in AI would lead to huge industry transformations, demanding tremendous growth in compute power from devices to Edge to cloud and we sharpened our focus to become a data-centric company.

Realizing the need for powerful software to make AI a reality, the first challenge I took on was to lead the team in creating AI software to run efficiently on Intel Xeon CPUs by optimizing deep learning frameworks like Caffe and TensorFlow. We were able to demonstrate more than 200-fold performance increases due to a combination of Intel hardware and software innovations.

We are working to make all of our customer workloads in various domains run faster and better on Intel technology.

 

What can we do as a society to attract women to AI?

It’s a priority for me and for Intel to get more women in STEM and computer science in general, because diverse groups will build better products for a diverse population. It’s especially important to get more women and underrepresented minorities in AI, because of potential biases lack of representation can cause when creating AI solutions.

In order to attract women, we need to do a better job explaining to girls and young women how AI is relevant in the world, and how they can be part of creating exciting and impactful solutions. We need to show them that AI spans so many different areas of life, and they can use AI technology in their domain of interest, whether it’s art or robotics or data journalism or television. Exciting applications of AI they can easily see making an impact e.g. virtual assistants like Alexa, self-driving cars, social media, how Netflix knows which movies they want to watch, etc.

Another key part of attracting women is representation. Fortunately, there are many women leaders in AI who can serve as excellent role models, including Fei-Fei Li, who is leading human-centered AI at Stanford, and Meredith Whittaker, who is working on social implications through the AI Now Institute at NYU.

We need to work together to adopt inclusive business practices and expand access of technology skills to women and underrepresented minorities. At Intel, our 2030 goal is to increase women in technical roles to 40% and we can only achieve that by working with other companies, institutes, and communities.

 

How can women best break into the industry?  

There are a few options if you want to break into AI specifically. There are numerous online courses in AI, including UDACITY’s free Intel Edge AI Fundamentals course. Or you could go back to school, for example at one of Maricopa County’s community colleges for an AI associate degree – and study for a career in AI e.g. Data Scientist, Data Engineer, ML/DL developer, SW Engineer etc.

If you already work at a tech company, there are likely already AI teams. You could check out the option to spend part of your time on an AI team that you’re interested in.

You can also work on AI if you don’t work at a tech company. AI is extremely interdisciplinary, so you can apply AI to almost any domain you’re involved in. As AI frameworks and tools evolve and become more user-friendly, it becomes easier to use AI in different settings. Joining online events like Kaggle competitions is a great way to work on real-world machine learning problems that involve data sets you find interesting.

The tech industry also needs to put in time, effort, and money to reach out to and support women, including women who are also underrepresented ethnic minorities. On a personal note, I’m involved in organizations like Girls Who Code and Girl Geek X, which connect and inspire young women.

 

With Deep learning and reinforcement learning recently gaining the most traction, what other forms of machine learning should women pay attention to?

AI and machine learning are still evolving, and exciting new research papers are being published regularly. Some areas to focus on right now include:

  1. Classical ML techniques that continue to be important and are widely used.
  2. Responsible/Explainable AI, that has become a critical part of AI lifecycle and from a deployability of deep learning and reinforcement learning point-of-view.
  3. Graph Neural Networks and multi-modal learning that get insights by learning from rich relation information among graph data.

 

AI bias is a huge societal issue when it comes to bias towards women and minorities. What are some ways of solving these issues?

When it comes to AI, biases in training samples, human labelers and teams can be compounded to discriminate against diverse individuals, with serious consequences.

It is critical that diversity is prioritized at every step of the process. If women and other minorities from the community are part of the teams developing these tools, they will be more aware of what can go wrong.

It is also important to make sure to include leaders across multiple disciplines such as social scientists, doctors, philosophers and human rights experts to help define what is ethical and what is not.

 

Can you explain the AI blackbox problem, and why AI explainability is important?

In AI, models are trained on massive amounts of data before they make decisions. In most AI systems, we don’t know how these decisions were made — the decision-making process is a black box, even to its creators. And it may not be possible to really understand how a trained AI program is arriving at its specific decision. A problem arises when we suspect that the system isn’t working. If we suspect the system of algorithmic biases, it’s difficult to check and correct for them if the system is unable to explain its decision making.

There is currently a major research focus on eXplainable AI (XAI) that intends to equip AI models with transparency, explainability and accountability, which will hopefully lead to Responsible AI.

 

In your keynote address during MITEF Arab Startup Competition final award ceremony and conference you discussed Intel’s AI for Social Good initiatives. Which of these Social Good projects has caught your attention and why is it so important?

I continue to be very excited about all of Intel’s AI for Social Good initiatives, because breakthroughs in AI can lead to transformative changes in the way we tackle problem solving.

One that I especially care about is the Wheelie, an AI-powered wheelchair built in partnership with HOOBOX Robotics. The Wheelie allows extreme paraplegics to regain mobility by using facial expressions to drive. Another amazing initiative is TrailGuard AI, which uses Intel AI technology to fight illegal poaching and protect animals from extinction and species loss.

As part of Intel’s Pandemic Response Initiative, we have many on-going projects with our partners using AI. One key initiative is contactless fever detection or COVID-19 detection via chest radiography with Darwin AI. We’re also working on bots that can answer queries to increase awareness using natural language processing in regional languages.

 

For women who are interested in getting involved, are there books, websites, or other resources that you would recommend?  

There are many great resources online, for all experience levels and areas of interest. Coursera and Udacity offer excellent online courses on machine learning and seep learning, most of which can be audited for free. MIT’s OpenCourseWare is another great, free way to learn from some of the world’s best professors.

Companies such as Intel have AI portals that contain a lot of information about AI including offered solutions. There are many great books on AI: foundational computer science texts like Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Peter Norvig and Stuart Russell, and modern, philosophical books like Homo Deus by historian Yuval Hararri. I’d also recommend Lex Fridman’s AI podcast on great conversations from a wide range of perspectives and experts from different fields.

 

Do you have any last words for women who are curious about AI but are not yet ready to leap in?

AI is the future, and will change our society — in fact, it already has. It’s essential that we have honest, ethical people working on it. Whether in a technical role, or at a broader social level, now is a perfect time to get involved!

Thank you for the interview, you are certainly an inspiration for women the world over. Readers who wish to learn more about the software solutions at Intel should visit AI Software Products at Intel.

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AI Education Startup Riiid Seeks Worldwide Expansion After New Funding Round

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The South Korean-based AI education startup Riiid has announced that the company raised $41.8 million in a pre-Series D funding round. The new investment, which includes the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDP), NVESTOR, Intervest, and existing investor IMM Investments, brings the company’s total funding up to $70.2 million.

According to the company, the funding is another indicator of its success, with over 200 percent annual sales growth and more than a million users since 2017. 

Mobile Test Prep

One of Riiid’s biggest contributions to the field of education is a mobile test prep application called Santa. The application focuses on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), and it has been used by more than one million students in Korea and Japan.

The company’s proprietary AI technology has helped launch it to No. 1 in sales among education apps in both Korea and Japan. The AI is able to provide analysis of student data and content, predict user behavior and scores, and what may be its most impressive feature is the ability to recommend personalized study plans in real-time. The use of personalized lessons has been regarded by many as one of the most effective approaches to education. 

Overseas Expansion

With the company’s success in the Santa application, it will now look to provide back-end solutions all across the globe for companies, school districts, and education ministries. 

Y J Jang is Riiid’s CEO. 

“Riiid successfully completed domestic funding amid a slower investment environment due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and has made significant progress in negotiating with overseas financial investors to accelerate global expansion,” said Jang. “Riiid is already in the process of forming various global partnerships based on its verified AI technology in both academic and commercial markets, and will soon unveil new products and services. We are committed to creating a future for education beyond our imagination through in-depth R&D and commercialization of technology.” 

The company will use the secured funding to improve the company’s deep learning technology even further. One of its goals is to provide solutions that help students achieve learning objectives throughout the entire education process, not just for specific tests or tasks. This would be done through constant evaluation and feedback. 

The company will also look to continue its expansion outside of South Korea, moving into the United States, South America, the Middle East, and other areas of the world. The company has recently opened up Riiid Labs in Silicon Valley, which acts as the global headquarters of the company. 

“Riiid is establishing a global standard while defining valid technologies and leading researches in the field of AI EdTech,” said Intervest Director, Jay Jeon. “At a time when the need for effective remote learning solutions is expanding not only in the education market but also in various industries, the investment was made highly valuing the marketability of Riiid’s proven business model in Santa, excellent talent pool, and various global partnerships that are underway based on a scalable technology structure.”  

Riiid also contributes to AI research and publishes papers at top AI conferences such as Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), the International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU), and others. 

The company also launched EdNet in early 2020, which is the world largest open database for AI education.

 

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