This April, The Mark Cuban Foundation joined forces with Microsoft and Walmart for the foundation’s first Dallas “AI Bootcamp,” a program aimed at teaching fundamental artificial intelligence concepts to Dallas public school students. The four-session course was the first in a series of planned initiatives that Cuban hopes will give students early exposure to critical technology concepts and skills.
“AI is no longer something in the future. It’s changing every industry today. I wanted to start by educating the kids who will be making the decisions about how AI will impact society,” said Cuban. “Not everyone needs to be an AI expert, but it’s important for everyone to understand the basics to be an informed citizen.”
The 18-hour, free extra-curricular program gave twenty students from six Dallas ISD high schools a unique, hands-on opportunity to learn about the technology that Cuban believes will have a bigger impact on society than the internet.
The foundation prioritized applications from low-income schools in Dallas ISD to provide opportunities to students who wouldn’t get a chance to learn about these topics otherwise. Half of the participants were young women.
The Mark Cuban Foundation worked closely with Microsoft to select the curriculum’s topics. Students used Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Computing Platform and its built-in Cognitive Services to build their own working AI applications. Microsoft staff including Britt Madlem, a data and AI technical specialist in Microsoft’s Dallas office volunteered their time to lead tutorials on the technology, which students completed on Microsoft Surface devices on loan from the local Microsoft Store.
“Microsoft is committed to empowering the next generation of creators to pursue their dreams through access to technology, resources and learning opportunities,” said Charlotte Yarkoni, Corporate Vice President Microsoft. “We’re excited to help students learn more about the ethical and technical applications of AI, and provide them with the tools to explore their passions and build skills that could lead to a future career in technology.”
The course familiarized students with high-level AI concepts like Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, and Computer Vision. The Bootcamp emphasized both the advantages and shortcomings of the technology, with students engaging in ethical discussions about ways that AI could help or unintentionally hurt people in the future. Students also got hands-on experience building applications with the same tools used by experts in the field.
The course sessions were led by Sheetal Kadam, a first-year Computer Science Master’s Student at the University of Texas at Dallas who is focusing her studies on data science and machine learning. Kadam worked with Cuban’s team to develop a curriculum that covered a wide-range of complex topics while keeping the students engaged with examples ranging from Netflix to ‘fidget spinners’ to Avengers: Endgame.
The course’s session on Machine Learning was developed in tandem with the new Walmart Tech Office in Plano, where technologists focus on artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science and internet of things. Walmart data scientist Neelabh Pant visited the camp to talk about his own AI education and career. He then showed students how to use Walmart’s own data to train an intelligent system to accurately predict weekly sales at any Walmart store in the country with a just a few data points.
“Walmart is using technology, data and design to power the future of retail,” said Neelabh Pant, Walmart Dallas Tech Office data scientist. “There is so much potential for using emerging technologies and we are excited for the opportunity to inspire the next generation of technologists.”
During other sessions, the students heard from technology leaders at two startups that use AI at the core of their businesses. Vlad Eidelman, VP of Research at Washington D.C.-based FiscalNote, explained how he uses AI in his work to understand how bills will work their way through local, state, and national legislature. Brody Huvall, CTO at Drive.AI, an autonomous driving company recently acquired by Apple, demonstrated how self-driving cars would not be possible without AI.
Hearing about real-world applications of the concepts the students were learning left a strong impression. “The guest speakers were the best part of the bootcamp,” one remarked. “These speakers are really experienced in the AI field and gave great knowledge that only lucky people such as us could get.”
In addition to the course leaders and guest speakers, students had access to mentors with backgrounds in computer science and programming, including five from Dallas-based software consultancy Headstorm.
“I liked that we got to work with people that do this in their everyday life,” said one of the students.
Speaking to the program’s first graduates, Cuban emphasized the significance of the students’ commitment to learning about AI: “You’re probably some of the earliest high school kids that ever got exposed to learning this stuff…That’s why I get so excited about this. You guys will get to do things that no one your age has come up with. That’s exciting.”
During the program’s four sessions, students gained a comprehensive understanding of the basic concepts underlying artificial intelligence. By the end of the course, students average self-reported confidence in understanding of AI jumped from 3.6 to 8.4 on a 10-point scale.
Students also walked away with tangible rewards: a Certificate of Completion from Microsoft, digitally signed by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, that students can add to their resumes and cite on college applications; a $100 credit for Microsoft Azure to continue learning and building applications on their own; and a photo with Mark Cuban.
When asked to rate on a 10-point scale if they’d recommend their friends apply for the next AI Bootcamp, the average rating was 9.7. “If I could do this camp again, I would 100% do it!” responded one student.
The Mark Cuban Foundation and Microsoft will work together to distribute the AI Bootcamp curriculum to 100 Microsoft STEM Volunteers across the country. Locally in Dallas, Cuban is hoping to partner with schools and other educational organizations to continue hosting AI programs to educate the technology leaders of the future.
Cuban wants to hear from others working on AI education, or hoping to bring the curriculum to their students: “We’re looking for ways to continue this work. Please reach out. We want to work with you to educate as many people as possible.”
The Foundation plans to host the AI Bootcamp again in August. Interested Dallas ISD students can pre-register here: http://register.markcubanai.org
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