A fun day at the China Children’s Computer Contest talking with the students and watching them grapple with the mysteries of AI technology! Some of them had come from as far away as the western province of Xinjiang and taken 40-hour train journeys to attend the event. I decided not to bore them with my own tales of long-distance rail and bus journeys when I was studying in China in the 1980s. I suspect that my experiences are a lot more fun in retrospect than they were at the time.
For the contest, we prepared a kit featuring a board, easy-to-program software, and sensors to enable the students to learn how to implement basic AI functions such as image recognition and voice control into their projects. The results were impressive, with the students building a colorful array of devices including self-driving cars, smart homes and gardens, and interactive artifacts inspired by Chinese cultural themes. I’m glad I wasn’t invited to judge the projects. Choosing winners from among them would have been very difficult.
Giving young students hands-on experience of how to use and experiment with AI through kits like ours is an effective way of getting children (and hopefully their teachers and parents) interested in the technology at an early age and preparing them for a world where the technology is ubiquitous.
China has made teaching AI at all levels of education, including elementary schools, a top priority as part of its strategy to achieve its goal of becoming a world leader in the technology by 2030. Other countries should consider adopting a similar approach to preparing their young people for the new world of AI that is emerging.