AI technology is currently developing at unprecedented speed. This will soon bring enormous economic, social and cultural challenges for society. As a consequence, our school system has to adapt drastically and quickly. We should start to create awareness for this today.
SwissCognitive Guest Blogger: Marco Lardelli, MSc. ETH
Everybody knows that artificial intelligence is currently developing at unprecedented speed. But it is still worth looking at some numbers to get an intuition for what’s going on. OpenAI published an analysis in 2018, showing that the amount of compute used in the largest AI training runs has been increasing exponentially with a doubling time of just 3.4 months (!). We all know that the famous Moore’s Law, which described the incredible development speed of electronics and computer science very well in the past, assumes a doubling period of about two years. Let’s look at some concrete numbers to understand the mathematical implications of this better: Between 2012 and 2018, the computing power used in leading A.I. projects has increased by a factor of more than 300’000! Moore’s law would have predicted „only“ a 7 fold increase in the same time period. But this is not all! We should not only look at the number of calculations executed but also at the efficiency of these calculations. Another publication from OpenAI from 2020 shows that the algorithmic efficiency doubles about every 16 months. This means that the amount of calculations required to achieve a certain result is decreasing very fast as well.
The two improvements add up and we therefore have to be prepared for simply mind-boggling A.I. advances in the coming years. We can safely say that we are experiencing an AI explosion right now!
It is clear that such an extremely fast technological progress will bring enormous economic, social and cultural challenges for society. AI might be the last and most important invention of humankind. Of course, such a development needs to be guided. We have to make sure that the huge potential of this invention is used to improve the living conditions of humans and not, for instance, to create intelligent autonomous weapons. In a democracy, the people are ultimately holding the steering wheel. To be able to make smart decisions they must understand what we are dealing with. Unfortunately, we are far away from such conditions right now. If I tell people about my AI projects, they often ask me questions like „interesting, but for what do we need this AI?“. Most people don’t even know that they are already dealing with powerful AI systems every day on social media platforms and e-commerce websites. But we urgently need to start a productive public dialogue about how this technology can be used for the benefit of all.
Therefore, the AI explosion also creates an unprecedented challenge for our school system. The challenge is multifaceted: apart from the necessary speed, which has to keep pace with the development of the technology, teaching AI requires an interdisciplinary approach. Mathematics is required to understand the engineering part and inspiration came from biological systems. But AI has to be discussed also outside STEM subjects: students must learn to discuss complex economic, social, ethical and philosophical questions. AI even questions our understanding of language. In the coming world, things cannot be studied in isolation. Everything is ultimately connected to everything. Kids must learn to think in networks and systems instead of isolated problems. They also need a deeper understanding of the technical concepts used in AI. Only then they will be competent enough to discuss the implications of this technology for society productively.
To bring our school system up to speed for these challenges, it will have to adapt faster than ever before. To be able to be successful in this transformation process, schools need strong support. This means a concentrated effort of society is necessary. First of all, we need quick and competent decisions from politics: our schools need substantial additional funding to finance the education of teachers. Relevant research at pedagogical universities must be promoted and funded. We need to train a large number of instructors who can train teachers.
For all this to happen, we will need the support of the media: society as a whole must become aware of the enormous challenges we are facing today. Only then the topic will be given the attention in politics it deserves.
About the Author:
Marco Lardelli (born 1969) is a Swiss entrepreneur, data scientist and trainer. After studying physics at ETH Zurich and the University College Dublin he founded several startups in the web and mobile business. He is the author of a free A.I. and robotics course for teenagers: ki-kit.ch.