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Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is the ability of machines to mimic human capabilities in a way that we would consider 'smart'.

You most likely have come across – or are aware of – AI applications such as self-driving cars, face-recognition, Chess/Go players, security systems, or speech/voice recognition (eg those used in an intelligent virtual assistant).

How is AI different from 'normal' computing?

In conventional computing, a programmer writes a computer program that precisely instructs a computer what to do to solve a particular problem. With AI, however, the programmer instead writes a program that allows the computer to learn to solve a problem by itself.

That sounds like overdoing it, but this is really the way we do things: At school, students learn the rules that allow them to solve a vast number of different problems: Instead of teaching 1,000 solutions to 1,000 problems, teachers teach students the practices and techniques how to solve a variety of problem instead. The idea behind AI is that we teach a computer to learn to solve problems. And because machines are good at crunching large amounts of data without ever getting tired, computers can solve some tough problems that our brains would struggle with.

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is an application of AI. Over recent times, the increased amount of data available for use in powerful computer systems has enabled the implementation of AI. With machine learning, we give the machine lots of examples of data, demonstrating what we would like it to do so that it can figure out how to achieve a goal on its own. The machine learns and adapts its strategy to achieve this goal.

Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs - some of which are called deep learning) are inspired by the workings of the biological brain's neural networks. ANNs can learn to identify patterns by using a feedback loop to learn from mistakes and improve their results. Here, we have a strong link to biology.

Is there an AI that can solve any problem?

Current AI solutions are limited to particular applications, such as Chess, Go, autonomous driving, etc. AI solutions aren't yet versatile like we humans are. But they can beat even the best human player at a game of Chess or Go.

AI Criticism

While there are many promising aspects of AI, its use also raises some concerns. For example, what will happen when an AI surpasses human intelligence? Who is responsible when things go wrong in an application powered by AI?

Connections to the Australian Curriculum:

Digital Technologies Learning Area

AI is not mentioned explicitly in any content descriptor. However, it:

  • is a good application of computational thinking in a sense that it demonstrates abstraction and decomposition (especially ANNs do this well)
  • provides valid and interesting context and applications for curriculum skills and knowledge about data and algorithms
  • is an industry-relevant area of computer science
  • is relevant to student personal experience, eg social media or Netflix algorithms
  • is rich in potential real-world applications for investigation, eg driverless cars and face recognition
  • is highly suited to a discussion of the ethical and social impacts of technology
  • is scalable for understanding concepts, from primary through to secondary students.

Other learning areas:

  • AI connects well with other subject areas, such as biology
  • Ai allows students to reflect on their learning strategies to become more effective learners.

In summary: AI is about making computers smarter by allowing them to learn. Machine learning is the application of AI using big data and powerful computing. Some of the approaches in Machine learning are inspired by biology.

Image: geralt/pixabay


Learn more about it

Videos and webinars

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Demystifying Artificial Intelligence (54 mins)

A webinar focused on how we can teach AI to students. It explores underpinning concepts of AI, from simple algorithms through to machine learning from data sets. Dr Joshua Ho shares his experience on developing AI classroom activities for primary school students (see Facial Recognition, Machine Learning), to demystify the concept of AI.

Online courses and interactive texts

Quick reference


How to teach it

Unplugged lessons:

AI classroom activity: Facial recognition

AI classroom activity: Facial recognition

An article discussing an unplugged activity to explore machine learning for facial recognition with Primary students using data on cartoon princesses. See also the webinar with Dr Joshua Ho, in which this activity is described.