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Literacy and mathematics have long stood as the core pillars of K-12 education. But the world does not stand still, and we believe that it is past time for a new core pillar of U.S. education: computer science and AI coding.
AI’s capabilities have become headline news in recent months. From the Stable Diffusion image generation models that went viral last fall to the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT language generator in December 2022, all the way up until the recent hearings before the U.S. Senate, AI is defining our current moment.
But what we’re experiencing now is not a passing fad. This moment is preceded by many years of serious research and impressive breakthroughs. Through Google’s Search, AI has powered the way most people receive new knowledge for decades. Through services like Netflix and Spotify, it recommends what media they will watch next. It operates in hospitals, farms, and assembly lines. And, thanks to tools like ChatGPT, it is increasingly automating white-collar work, too. A recent research paper on the potential impact of Large Language Models (LLMs) like those underlying ChatGPT suggests that around 80% of the US workforce could have their workflows impacted by AI. Meanwhile, 83% of executives say AI is a strategic business priority. The tools, techniques, and models we are seeing today will play a crucial role in building the world of tomorrow.
We must educate ourselves for an AI-powered world
If American students are not prepared in school to face the workforce’s future demands, they will find themselves at a serious disadvantage against countries that took the technology more seriously in their curriculum.
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To be sure, adding a new pillar to the U.S. education system is no easy task. The system is already stressed by teacher shortages, budget cuts, and political wrangling over curriculum. Introducing AI coding to the curriculum will be worth the effort. There is a way forward. Several states are already making strides in addressing the systemic changes needed to build new curricular offerings through legislation and funding that promote effective computer science strategies for the classroom and professional development for teachers. Tennessee, for example, passed a bill last year ensuring that all K-12 public schools in the state will have access to computer science courses and resources. The law also gives teachers a cost-free option to get an endorsement in computer science and provides additional incentives to encourage their participation in professional development programs. Arkansas and South Carolina have passed similar legislation.
AI can help address some of these challenges, too. Teachers can lighten their workload by using AI to help with automated grading, provide feedback, create exercises, and more. These tools will lower the technical barrier to teaching AI and computer science more generally and allow teachers to master the subject alongside their students.
Before the rise of AI, Jeannette Wing and the National Science Foundation had admirable success promoting C-STEM curriculum and computational thinking in schools; often, this takes the form of coding classes centered on web and game development. These are great for students interested in technology but are too narrowly focused to build a general fluency in manipulating data. AI’s potential for change extends far beyond computer science. It impacts history, civics, writing, creativity, critical thinking, and every other aspect of society that children will encounter when they enter adulthood.
Coding your own AI solutions is an essential skill
We believe AI coding will be as transformative as the spread of literacy was during the early Middle Ages in Europe. At that time, knowing how to read and write was a rare privilege reserved mostly for the wealthy and for religious leaders. With the invention of the printing press, literacy rates skyrocketed. This helped contribute to the rise of the middle class. Today, we know that widespread literacy corresponds to healthier societies. A study conducted by Brookings Institution and Gallup found that if every US adult could read at a sixth-grade level, $2.2 trillion, or 10%, could be added to the GDP. We believe AI coding literacy is as important and will have a similar or greater value.
And yet, when it comes to AI literacy, we are still in the relative Dark Ages, where a limited group of priests and priestesses — engineers working in academia and tech — manage this knowledge for everyone else. Society will be much richer if we instead initiate our children into the world of AI, so they can be the first generation to meet the potential of an AI-powered world head-on.
Andrew Ng is a globally recognized leader in AI (Artificial Intelligence). He is founder of DeepLearning.AI, founder and CEO of Landing AI, general partner at AI Fund, Chairman and cofounder of Coursera, Chairman of Kira Learning and an adjunct professor at Stanford University’s Computer Science Department.
Andrea Pasinetti is the cofounder and CEO of Kira Learning and a cofounder of VIAVIA.
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