There’s no doubt that Artificial Intelligence has become a major buzzword these days. You might already be aware of it as this trailblazing technology that has made captivating headlines in terms of the innovations that it brings along and the risks that it poses. Be it a self-driving car, a sex robot that can breathe, or a healthcare tool that detects possible breast cancer better than the experts, Artificial Intelligence is dominating almost every industry that we can think of. It has remained one of the biggest stories in tech in a course of the last few years and we wanted to know what its future holds.
To see a picture beyond the mainstream AI, we interviewed Karan Bajaj, Founder and CEO, WhiteHat Jr, who shared with us his insight around Machine Learning, need for ethics around AI, and AI’s impact on education.
Karan Bajaj is the founder and CEO of WhiteHat Jr., an ed-tech startup that helps kids 6 to 14 build commercial-ready games, animations and apps online using the fundamentals of coding. With WhiteHat Jr., he aims to make a difference in global education, with a mission to harness the natural creativity of kids and and shift their mindset from an early age – from being consumers to creators of technology. Prior to this, Karan also served as CEO for Discovery Inc., where he led Discovery Networks (Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery Kids etc.) in South Asia.
On Fourth Industrial Revolution
We’re aware that Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming and would bring about a need for ‘skills revolution’ among people who’d have to cope with the growing demands of AI technology.
What, according to you, are some of the ways we can get ready to respond well to the changes that Artificial Intelligence will bring along?
Karan Bajaj: We are indeed on the verge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s important to be current with technologies that will be prevalent in the coming years. The Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum has predicted 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that do not even exist yet. Not just that, it predicts that 65% of today’s jobs won’t exist just 7 years from now. Artificial Intelligence is expected to impact 800 million jobs in 2020. Basically, any job that doesn’t involve creation will be automated.
To respond to these changes that AI will bring along, it is of utmost importance to equip our kids with the necessary skills from a young age to avoid redundancy in the future. While doing my research on the subject from MIT and TUFTS, I found that kids use the fundamentals of logic, sequence, structure and algorithmic thinking to create tech products like games, animations and apps. More crucially, at an early age they start viewing themselves as creators-makers of games versus players of games, creators of videos versus surfers of videos. We’ve developed the world’s first coding curriculum for kids which includes cutting-edge fields such as AI, robotics, machine learning and space tech to enable them to be future ready.
On Machine Learning
Machine learning has become one of the top-wanted skills for developers today. It’s also the most popular learning courses of 2019, according to Coursera.
Do you think Machine learning has become an important multidisciplinary skill today? If so, why?
Karan Bajaj: Yes, Machine Learning is basically a subset of AI and is gaining prominence today since it’s one of the key drivers in automation of processes and systems. The world is increasingly becoming dependent on data and the resultant analytics on that data which can give companies immense insights across various functions and processes. It is used to automate models and algorithms based on the principle that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions, all with minimal human intervention.
So, in every industry, Machine Learning is emerging as a hot technology for increasing automation, leading to cost efficiencies and better optimisation. A good example of this in your daily life would be how Netflix suggests which movies you’d probably like based on your previous history or how Spotify suggested songs in a similar fashion”.
Since Machine Learning is such a hot field, what advice would you give to people who aspire to pursue AI development or a related field?
Karan Bajaj: Start early and learn continuously. If you couldn’t start learning earlier, start now. This is why we encourage parents to introduce their kids to these concepts at an early age to build familiarity. They need to start viewing the world as a giant playground of experimentation and creation versus a binary series of rights and wrongs; creating a very deep, profound relationship with life. It is also important to keep practicing and learning on a daily basis since AI is a continuously evolving field. I would (also) recommend having a mentor, someone who has in-depth knowledge about the domain since you can accelerate your learning from his/her experience.
On Teaching AI Ethics
Although AI is making massive strides today, there are ethical concerns surrounding the
technology in terms of its safety, fairness, and equality.
Do you think teaching ethics should become a mandatory part of AI development?
Karan Bajaj: Yes, it is critical to educate everyone about the ethics around the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), as it relies on big data and machine learning for myriad applications. Basically, for AI to work the way it’s intended to, it must be trained on large and varied data sets and here it’s critical that human biases are not allowed to trickle into the datasets. It’s also important that the systems are not trained on only one kind of data. AI systems are expected to impact significant areas of our lives – from autonomous vehicles to algorithmic trading, and from clinical decision support systems to financial systems, including day-to-day processes like what news we consume on Facebook and other social media platforms. Hence, the main objective of ethics in AI should be to get the AI engine to act as intelligently and intuitively as humans, without the inherent biases that we often suffer from.
On AI And Its Impact On Education
What do you think are the major challenges in the educational system today? Also, which AI technology do you think will create a deep impact on education in the coming years, and why?
Karan Bajaj: The Indian higher education system is robust as is witnessed by our contribution to space research as well as the technology industry – not only in India but across the world. What it needs, however, is a more holistic approach to computer science at the primary school level. Kids today learn the basics of computing in schools but there needs to be a more comprehensive approach to teaching them coding as one of the key skills of the future. While schools are doing their bit in using technology to enable learning for students, we believe that there’s an opportunity for them to work with specialized players like us to introduce emerging technologies like AI, robotics, machine learning and space tech into their learning models.
In the coming years, AI will impact the education industry itself in a big way by automating backend organizational tasks, helping to create smart educational content and increasing adoption of trends like personalized learning and voice assistants.
WhiteHat Jr. recently announced its plans to bring AI and robotics-based coding to schools. How is this plan different than the ones offered by companies like Microsoft and IBM who have tied up with CBSE to build capacity for AI learning in schools?
Karan Bajaj: There are three major differences – 1) the curriculum, 2) teachers who have experience teaching this curriculum to students and 3) flexibility in terms of collaboration models. Firstly, we’ve developed the world’s first coding curriculum for kids created by MIT/IIT computer scientists which includes cutting-edge fields such as AI, robotics, machine learning and space tech. Secondly, our teachers are specially trained in getting kids to not only learn but also enjoy the process of coding and only the top 99.9th percentile of teachers conduct the classes. […] More than 500,000 kids have registered on the platform and as of today, 5000+ live online classes are happening daily on the platform.
Thirdly, we’re also offering schools flexibility in terms of how they can collaborate with us including models where we will license our curriculum to schools and train their teachers to supplementing the school’s existing computer science class and teach students in the schools’ computer labs via 1:1 live, online classes. Also, helping schools form post-school coding clubs and conduct coding classes to complement their existing computer science curriculum. In the process, we want to facilitate more such kid-entrepreneurs and create an ecosystem where children are harnessing their tremendous creative energy to create products that are market ready.
AI is quite a complex field. How does your program intends to make it easier for kids to grasp such an intricate field?
Karan Bajaj: Any concept – even as complex and intricate as AI – if sufficiently broken down and abstracted can be taught to anyone. Einstein once famously quipped – “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” We teach AI to kids through different layers of abstraction. We start by teaching them decision trees with the use of simple if-else conditions. They use it to add intelligence to non-playing characters in a game.
As the students learn a bit of statistics, we teach them simple models like linear regression and clustering using which they learn how machines or computers can learn and predict future outcomes based on past data sets. They use this knowledge to build simple machine learning and AI algorithms which can predict real life outcomes with sufficient confidence. As their understanding grows, we teach them more advanced decision trees using random forest model and eventually progress towards neural networks and deep learning models.
Could you share with us the results that you hope to achieve with this latest plan of bringing AI and robotics coding curriculum to the schools?
Karan Bajaj: Our aim is to empower the next generation to be creators in the world of the future with the help of coding. At a young age, the power to grasp and understand any subject or activity is higher than at a later stage in our lives. Teaching kids to code provides a well-structured way to introduce them to rational thinking and problem-solving skills. It also helps kids to improve their logical and analytical thinking and increases creativity and concentration – all of which are skills that can be applied far beyond the realm of computer science.
We want to empower a generation to be creators in this world. We want kids to go through this fundamental shift in their thinking and view themselves as creators, so they become entrepreneurs or artists of the future.