Educating UK citizens about AI

Silver AI project
6 min readMar 21, 2024

Why the ‘Silver AI Project’ is necessary

Two robots dancing with title “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence Course”

A. Explaining the problem.

A1. Inadequate media coverage. At the moment (March 2024) the media regard Artificial Intelligence largely as either a business story or a source of entertaining titbits. Here in the UK the BBC website today has a great deal of news about large companies like Microsoft and NVidia plus lots of ‘gosh, isn’t that interesting’ stories like the girl who uses an AI-generated ‘twin’ to secure modelling work. Meanwhile very little effort is invested in showing people how to use free AI tools to improve their lives.

A2. Timid political interest. Behind the scenes the UK government is very aware of the power of AI, with the recent budget containing a very large boost to the use of AI to help manage our revered National Health Service. Many online services are also having AI functionality added. There is nothing though about how it might already be relevant to the ordinary citizen. Perhaps politicians are terrified that the conversation about the future loss of jobs might run out of control.

A3. Passive educational establishment. Much of the initial reaction from UK educational influencers has been around the dangers of youngsters using AI, and in particular about how to detect AI generated work so as to stamp it out. AI will soon be capable of being a personal tutor to each student, one who is sympathetic, intuitive and infinitely knowledgeable while adapting all subject matter to the interests of the student. You might see why teachers might be overwhelmed but perhaps they should be encouraged to be enthusiastic about the potential.

Robots and people partying together

B. What is being missed?

B1. AI is an enabling technology. The assumption of many decision makers is the AI is a ‘big tech’ thing which will bring huge changes to the products and services that people use. That is of course true but it is also capable of being used by individual citizens in a thousand different ways, many small and obscure, in work and at home, that would never occur to those planning a top down approach. In particular, the determined use of AI in everyday working life would be transformational as below.

B2. AI helping with daily trivia. For example, one person may consult an AI chatbot for suggestions about training they may need to become a carer. Another might enter a photo of the broken household appliance and ask whether it should be mended or discarded. A third might just want to test an idea about how to deal with a troubled friend or family member. Taken together, and repeated with a wide range of other issues that arise in everyday life, these things add up to an improvement in the quality of life and sometimes a reduction of the burden on public services.

B3. AI helping perform work tasks. Many of our more technically minded workers already make use of AI tools to improve their productivity, perhaps without notifying their employer. Anecdotal evidence however is that AI use is spreading only slowly though the workforce, both public sector and private. The loss of productivity this implies is terrible, not least here in the UK where improvement in productivity has been poor for many years. The return from a strong public lead in gaining AI skills would be enormous and beyond any other initiative government has attempted previously.

Examples: Imagine if a good AI conversation tool of the next generation was available in every small business or branch/office of a larger one and could be asked questions like: (i) How can I improve our product/service? (ii) How could the available space be better used? (iii) How can we get more users/customers cost effectively? (iv) Review all of our sales/technical material and improve it (v) Be a consultant in how things should be done?

Cocktail party with people and robots participating equally

C. What is the urgency?

C1. The speed of change. The world has become used to technological change over the past hundred years. Some older people still remember when horses were as plentiful on the roads as cars and when houses had no central heating, no telephones and no televisions. It might be tempting then to think that AI is no different. People will get used to it over time and there really is no more hurry now then when we first heard about the new ‘world wide web’ and wondered if it mattered. Ask an AI expert however and they will mention ‘exponential growth’ and the ‘singularity’ mixed in perhaps with ‘life extension’ and ‘the march of the humanoid robots’. This time is NOT like the others.

C2. Implications of rapid change 1 — Future shock. Ordinary citizens are soon going to be amazed by how the world is changing. Whether that is driverless cars on the road, humanoid robots behind the counters and delivering to the doors, or the floods of ultra cheap goods coming from places where AI has been rapidly and positively adopted. An educated citizenry can react positively and understand the implications of necessary changes. Citizens largely left in the dark will be subject to populist rebellion which will be destructive and ultimately unsuccessful.

C3. Implications of rapid change 2 — Aiming ahead. Ever since the first ‘AI conversation’ tools have come out, pundits and journalists have written about the poor performance they have seen. Indeed often they imply the whole technology is over-rated. After a while it became clear that in almost all cases the writer had used only the ‘free’ version of the tool, probably because they felt too special to pay. The free version is always the older weaker one, the AI companies charge for the latest. Furthermore they usually have an even better one waiting for when a new launch is needed. In short, in planning how to react to AI as a society we need to focus on where AI will be in 12 months from now — which will assuredly be extremely impressive by any standards.

D. What AI education do citizens need?

D1 The AI training citizens need. An analysis shows every citizen needs about six hours of education on AI in order to have a solid grounding. Beyond that they need ongoing support and access to appropriate (free) tools, plus free access to the very latest AI tools if they can make the case why they have that need.

D2. The Silver AI Project. A suggested course is laid out on the website of the ‘Silver AI Project’ (website below) which is a free resource created by the writer of this article that can be used and adapted by anybody without need of attribution or any other permission. It is designed to act as the basis of small group ‘face-to-face’ teaching.

D3. Suggested course content. The Silver AI Project content is intended to first make ‘students’ of any age comfortable with AI use in the context of AI Art tools, and then move on to problem solving with AI Conversation tools. There are also then sessions covering what is happening in AI video and music, with humanoid robots and discussions of AI Ethics. All of this is done in a non-technical way and with an emphasis on hands-on learning within and between sessions.

D4. Freedom to adapt. Every situation will demand content that is in some way adapted to its audience. The important thing here is that this level of training is provided. Citizens need time to think through what they are seeing and discuss and build upon it with others. The example ‘six hours’ is quite a minimal investment given the benefits that would result.

Femal face in galaxy like pattern

E. Where next?

Very soon AI will become the central topic in political debate. Those conversations will either be based on fear and ignorance or they can be informed and positive. The country requires political leadership, investment of time and energy in educating its population, and it needs thought leaders and journalists to raise their game. The upcoming UK General Election would be a great time for everybody to become engaged.

DTM 21 March 2024