Artificial Intelligence explained to my children

  • Massimo Ciociola profile
    Massimo Ciociola
    10 January 2019 - updated 2 years ago
    Total votes: 10

Goodnight Alexa. The lights in the house switch off. The lights are dimmed into soft light mode in my four year old son, Francesco's, bedroom. He is still afraid of the dark.

Hey Siri, good morning. All the window shutters are raised at 6.45AM. Alice, my oldest daughter is 15 and a great sleeper. This is how she opens her eyes to get ready for school, while I prepare breakfast.

If I had to explain Artificial Intelligence to my son Francesco, I would say that it is the reflection of human beings. Teaching Artificial Intelligence to a child is much easier than explaining it to an adult; they tend to be too rational.

Very often I meet people who do not believe that computers can learn; incredulous that a computer  even has the ability to learn. Yes. Their assumptions are mainly related to technical aspects, it's almost like saying that humans are simply an agglomeration of cells and the only ones with an aptitude for learning. A bit of a simplistic approach. A child can go far beyond such concept, realising that software and computers can really learn.

In fact, the most advanced techniques that exist can now learn thanks to data provided by humans: it's a bit like saying that we have a “small pet” made of binary numbers inside our computer.

This pet, however, fails to make independent decisions, it learns what is given within a set time, after which its learning ends. What it has learned is used to help people in everyday life in a different way. Some of them respond only "yes" or "no", while others manage to formulate complete sentences. These pets are a bit strange, sometimes they give bizarre answers, but they are still present in many aspects of our daily lives. Let’s think for example about Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant or those little pets that live inside hospital computers and help doctors in their diagnosis.

Some of these pets have learned to draw like great painters, while others "have fun" playing video games. They are so good that they can beat even world champions.

There are people who believe that these little friends could harm us by using just what we have taught them, against us. Big mistake: let's remember that they are not autonomous, they have no initiative and they do not have a body. Above all, we use them where we need them the most and we always keep them under control. But if one day they should have a body and hurt someone it will only be because of the humans. An aggressive pet behaves in that way because it is trained to be agressive or because it has not been trained at all.

It is therefore important to check the use of these little pets who live inside the computers by always subjecting their behaviour to the judgment of an expert. Let's not forget that these pets are special, thanks to humans.They will always be smarter and they will be able to improve our lifestyle. We already find concrete examples in the medical field, in cities, in cars and in education.

Others are still being tested, such as robots that do domestic work helping elderly and disabled people, or a super-intelligent C.T. that can diagnose illness in a few seconds from an image. To better explain Artificial Intelligence to our children, we should not explain it as a technology but like a new game, a new console, like the new Playstation, or as the latest iPhone.

It would be enough to turn on a light, open a garage door or start a car, to make them understand that Artificial Intelligence is the new light, the new energy, the new fire, in short, what will fuel our whole life in the next decades.

My son Francesco, when he will be 14 years old, will have grown with the spread of Artificial Intelligence and will live his life in a natural way and without surprises, just like my 15 year old daughter Alice has done with her SmartPhone: using it not as a novelty but as a commodity, something that everyone owns and therefore she must have too.

Exactly like it’s happening with electric cars now, in 10 years no more petrol or diesel cars will be sold and for those of my generation it will be an incredible innovation, but for our children it will be completely normal.

What we need to do now is to educate our children to see innovation as part of our lives.
We adults, however, should try not to become too rational: let's not forget that in reality a computer, in its own way, can think and be intelligent.

"Ok Google remind me that at 9am I have a meeting?". "Ok Max, the traffic at that time is busy to reach the office, would you like me to organize a video conference or book an Uber at 8.00?"


*This article has been originally published in Corriere della Sera (30.11.2018 | print edition).