How can parents support their children with AI? | Thorpe Hall School

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How can parents support their children with AI?

Preparing our children for an AI-infused future is all about fostering understanding, promoting responsible use and nurturing a critical mind. As parents, your role in shaping their digital literacy and ethical standards is paramount. By taking the time to explain and discuss the complexities of AI, we can empower them to be not just passive consumers, but informed and thoughtful users of this technology.

Over the last decade, Artificial intelligence (AI) seems to have become embedded in every aspect of our society and lives. From chatbots and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa to automated industrial machinery and self-driving cars, it’s hard to ignore its impact.

If you ask most people what they think AI is useful for, they will probably say that it’s mainly for automating routine, repetitive tasks. While this is often true, a growing branch of this science is dedicated to building AI tools and applications that can mimic one of the most uniquely human of all skill sets – creativity. Generative AI algorithms take existing data – video, images, sounds, or even computer code – and use it to create entirely new content that’s never existed in the non-digital world.

It was interesting to note how at this year’s French Tennis Open, the organisers used AI to block all harmful, misogynistic, racial, and sexual content on the player’s forum and on the French Open’s social media platforms. The players welcomed this as ground-breaking and reported that this significantly improved their mental well-being during the tournament as they were not exposed to unsavoury social media content.

AI is not new, it has been around of many years, and we all use it. AI is often encountered in video games where it is used to create more engaging and adaptive gameplay. AI is employed whenever you browse your favourite social media app, serving up content by studying your interests.

Our children are increasingly interacting with artificial intelligence (AI) in their everyday lives, from social media platforms to applications like ChatGPT.

It’s important to emphasise that while AI can be a powerful tool, it’s ultimately created by real people and can reflect biases and flaws of their creators or data, within their design.

When your child is online, AI systems are constantly analysing your child’s actions to make predictions and decisions – not just for your child’s benefit but for the AI creators’ benefit as well. It’s therefore crucial to teach them the importance of privacy and caution when interacting with AI-powered applications on the internet.

Because AI is responsible for selecting the content to be displayed, it can subtly shape your child’s online experiences, sometimes in ways that perpetuate stereotypes or biases established by its creators. Try explaining this concept with examples that your child can relate to, such as the recommendation system in their song streaming service that only suggests certain types of songs based on their previous listening habits, potentially limiting their exposure to a wider range of genres.

Try explaining how their online behaviour can influence the AI’s response and the information it presents to them, even down to the smallest details. For instance, some websites that sell goods or services may adjust their prices depending on how long a person stays on a page. A more nefarious example would be that oversharing personal details on social media could potentially enable AI algorithms to target them with inappropriate content or expose them to cyber threats.

There’s no better way to show your child what it means to use AI responsibly than following these best practices yourself. When downloading a new app that uses AI technology, talk your child through the permissions it requests and encourage them to question whether the app really needs access to certain information. And when they encounter news features about AI, such as the introduction of a new AI-driven technology or an AI-related controversy, seize the opportunity to discuss the ethical implications with them. Always remember you are their role model in this digital journey.

Useful websites for parents are:

Wider impacts of AI

We are all familiar with headlines such as “BT to cut 55,000 jobs with up to a fifth replaced by AI” which was published by the BBC on the 18th May 2023. Up to a fifth of those cuts will come in customer services as staff are replaced by technologies including artificial intelligence. AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs, a report by investment bank Goldman Sachs says. It could replace a quarter of work tasks in the US and Europe but may also mean new jobs and a productivity boom. And it could eventually increase the total annual value of goods and services produced globally by 7%. A recent report noted that AI’s impact will vary across different sectors – 46% of tasks in administrative and 44% in legal professions could be automated but only 6% in construction and 4% in maintenance, it says.

The long-term impact of AI, however, was highly uncertain, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank Torsten Bell told BBC News, so all firm predictions should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. “We do not know how the technology will evolve or how firms will integrate it into how they work,” he said. “That’s not to say that AI won’t disrupt the way we work – but we should focus too on the potential living-standards gains from higher-productivity work and cheaper-to-run services, as well as the risk of falling behind if other firms and economies better adapt to technological change.”

Today, the technology most commonly used to achieve AI is machine learning – advanced software algorithms designed to carry out one specific task, such as answering questions, translating languages or navigating a journey. The technology becomes increasingly good at its task, as they are exposed to more and more data. Worldwide, spending by governments and business on AI technology will top $500 billion in 2023, according to IDC research.

AI will only achieve its full potential if it’s available to everyone, and every company and organisation is able to benefit. Thankfully in 2023, this will be easier than ever. An ever-growing number of apps put AI functionality at the fingers of anyone, regardless of their level of technical skill.

Needless to say, AI is already and will continue to be a huge part of modern life.

Tip of the iceberg

Of course, this commentary is all just the tip of the AI iceberg. However, I wanted to give Thorpe Hall families the chance to debate AI openly within their communities and with their children, and to recognise that it is here to stay.

It has been referred to as the biggest event to change the world since the industrial revolution. Even if that view is only partially true then it would suggest that AI will, and is already, changing our lives and education forever.

We have seen its significant impact in education already, especially on how children access information and then how they create content as well. However, most importantly for me, I have seen how social media algorithms and new AI technologies are impacting how your children act and relate to one another and to adults in a very different way to before.

It strikes me that none of us has yet grasped the significant impact this will have on society, especially on relationships (peer to peer, child to parent, parent to school, teacher to learner) in a school community. We are entering an interesting, challenging and very uncertain new trajectory within schools and in relation to school community dynamics. Relationship nuances, learning environments and access to information is changing faster than ever before. The scary part is that there is little or no time for education, educators or parents to prepare for how to deal with these rapid changes.

As we navigate this evolving digital landscape together, the focus should be on raising a generation that’s ready to harness the benefits of AI, while being vigilant of its potential pitfalls. AI is effecting all areas of our lives, yet the journey into the future of AI for your children begins at home, with you.