Top 5 Resources to Prepare Your Kids for the AI Revolution

Why and how we should prepare our children for an increasingly technology based future

In 2015 the Bank of England estimated that up to 15 million jobs were at risk of automation- scary, right! But what you don’t always hear about is that it is also predicted that these new technologies will create 133 million new jobs over the next 3 years. I am personally optimistic about the coming AI revolution I believe that it has the potential to unshackle us from the traditional 9–5 working routine, and could improve our lives, and the world around us, in many areas including better healthcare, education, maybe a reduction in world poverty.

The jobs of the future will be different, they will require a different skill set and a different way of thinking, and they will involve working closely with technology. Schools are still focussed heavily on teaching the traditional skills — literacy, numeracy, and knowledge. This has served us well for the past 100 years but with the AI revolution, which we are starting to experience, most of the jobs that our children will go on to do don’t even exist yet.

“Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence.” — Ginni Rometty

It is difficult to predict exactly what these new jobs will look like. But what we can do is look at what is happening now and take guidance from there. We know that the tech sector is growing at a rapid pace, last year the tech sector grew 2.6 times faster than the rest of the economy, and 44% of employers say they face their biggest skills gap in coding. It stands to reason then that one skill we should urgently be teaching our children is how to code. Although there is an argument to say this too will one day be automated, knowing how to code and understand how computers work, will give a significant advantage to anyone working closely with technology.

As a parent of two young sons I have been spending time thinking about how I can foster the skills they might need to be successful in the future. I try give them plenty of opportunity to develop these skills outside of school. Over time I have found some wonderful free resources to help children learn to code, and to foster an interest in computing. I wanted to share them in this post so that other parents may be able to explore them with their own children.

Hour of code

This browser based coding platform has a large number of hour long coding tutorials available in over 45 languages. There are tutorials aimed at a wide range of age groups all the way from pre-readers to grades 9+. The tutorials are varied so there is something that should appeal to most children and include highly popular themes such as Minecraft and Frozen.

Each tutorial is based around coding blocks that you drag and drop into the coding environment to animate characters. There are videos with very clear instructions introducing each new concept. My 7 year old son was able to follow the first Minecraft tutorial almost independently and learnt coding principles including loops and functions.

My 7 year old son in his own words “learning to be a developer”

Scratch

Scratch is a program created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is also based on using coding blocks to animate characters and create stories. There are a variety of tutorials available on the scratch website and generally these are aimed at 8–16 year olds. There is version called Scratch Junior developed for the iPad (although we use it fine on an Android tablet) aimed at younger age groups from 5–7.

Made with code

Made with code is a Google initiative specifically aimed at developing an interest in coding for girls. The tutorials are based on the coding language Blockly, a web based graphical coding editor developed by Google. They cover a range of levels from beginner projects creating unique artwork, to building a geo filter that can be used live on Snapchat.

Machine learning for kids

This is a great web based tool for teaching machine learning to kids and is based on scratch. The tool introduces machine learning concepts and provides a guided environment to train machine learning models and use them to classify images, text and numbers. I particularly like the virtual pet tutorial in which you show pictures of foods and drinks using your web cam, and train the machine to classify images into these categories. I think this is a fantastic resource to support an introduction to learning to programme artificial intelligence both at home and in the classroom.

Text based adventure game

This is a slightly more obscure one but I think is a great introduction to using the terminal for kids. If you have access to a mac computer then you can access this game by typing the command emacs -batch -l dunnet into the terminal window. This loads a text based adventure game which you play by typing in commands such as take shovel and then navigate the world by typing commands such as go east.

My eldest really loves this probably because it is a bit like a text based version of Minecraft. Here is a fun extension to this that we use to develop some spatial awareness at the same time as learning to code on the command line. Whilst you are playing the game grab some paper and a pen, and ask the child to draw out a map of the world as you navigate. You can mark off things like dead ends and landmarks, and keep a list of inventory as you play.

We try to aim to develop healthy use of technology for our boys, something I know is a concern for many parents. Ensuring they have plenty of time away from screens — they both play in a football team and are learning the piano. I think by introducing them to coding we are not only giving them skills that will hopefully be useful later in life, but also give them a way to use technology to be creative, solve problems and engineer solutions. Happy coding!