Blog

Mike Walsh

June 28, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight

Your Kids Will Be Raised By AI

What does it take to lead a 21st century company? Can we re-imagine the way we do business? Mike Walsh prepares business leaders for what’s next. A leading authority on the intersection of emerging technologies, consumer behavior, and fast growth markets, Mike brings his unique insights into the growing influence of new markets on breakthrough innovation and business transformation. He expertly distils his insights into tailored keynotes that allow any audience to influence the future direction of their industry. Below, Mike writes on the very real possibility that artificial intelligence will play a role in the upbringing of the next generation of children:

Ask someone to picture AI, and they will most likely think about Terminators, psychotic fembots or angry robots from Hollywood central casting. But what makes AI actually frightening is not that it is ‘sci-fi’, but the that it is, in fact, already deeply embedded into our daily lives. If you have a child born post 2007, chances are that they have already been shaped by algorithms and digital platforms.

Here’s my view — from toys to teaching, AI is profoundly influencing human development from childhood and beyond. When your five-year-old has a thousand more questions than you have patience to answer, Amazon’s Alexa speaking through your living room Echo speaker, will be there to respond. If not Alexa, then Apple’s Siri, or Google, through their new Google Home device. Algorithms influence what your children watch on YouTube, the content of their social feeds, their interactions on Minecraft, as well as monitoring the temperature of their bedrooms, and their sleeping, exercise and eating habits.

At school, adaptive learning platforms will identify specific modules of knowledge that a child needs in order to advance, providing the kind of personal education that previously only individual tutors could offer. Teachers currently use software to identify Web plagiarism, but in the near future, computers will grade papers and exams – not just multiple choice responses, but complex, prose responses as well. At dinner parties and in school parking lots, parents will debate whether or not humans teach better than algorithms.

AI will also play an increasingly important role in keeping kids safe. Today’schild protection software relies on a brute force approach – blocking sites, monitoring keywords and allowing parents to covertly take screenshots of their children’s online activity. Soon machine learning and adaptive algorithms, we will offer parents a far more effective means to monitor, intervene and understand children’s digital play. From cradle to graduation, parents will subscribe to platforms that continuously monitor location, health, social networks and a host of other physical, psychological and existential risks.

And so, here comes the big question — will this new generation, coddled by these cool intelligences, be better off or crippled by their exposure to technology?

Specifically:

  • Will the AI generation be more adept at computational thinking — the ability to frame problems in ways that allow supercomputers to help solve them?
  • Will that aptitude lead to an over reliance on machine generated answers (consider how GPS has impacted the human ability to self-navigate), and a lack of awareness of algorithmic bias?
  • If algorithmic bias does exist, will it nudge the next generation toward cultural and political uniformity? (consider the recent fuss over Facebook’s suppression of conservative viewpoints)

To date, the development of AI has been largely driven by engineers. Their focus is improving pattern recognition, machine learning and computer vision, because their goal is to teach systems to drive cars, stabilize drones, and play better games of go. That is all well and good. But as we start to use those very same systems to teach not just machines but our own children, we need to think carefully and deliberately about what is important from a human perspective, and the implications of our choices.

Many children, myself included, had an invisible, imaginary friend that kept them company growing up. Kids today also have their invisible AI companions. What remains to be seen, is the impact that will have on their imaginations.

Mike Walsh/Medium/June, 2016