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Learning AI in high-school | The gift of deep listening++ #12

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“Nobody phrases it this way, but I think that artificial intelligence is almost a humanities discipline. It’s really an attempt to understand human intelligence and human cognition.” Sebastian Thrun, AI Innovator (self-driving cars, google glass at Google; Director Stanford AI Lab & much more)

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

In this week’s main post ‘Learning AI in High School’, we look at what kids should be learning about AI in high school, and how they can lay strong foundations for the field if they are interested in pursuing a career in it.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out the upcoming events section on how to join the club. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.


Learning AI in High School

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Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Learning AI in High-School

This post is curated by GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri and relies heavily on GenWise mentor, Navin Kabra’s summarization of key points from this talk by Ashwin Rao, Vice President of AI at Target, and Adjunct Professor at Stanford.

People talk about AI being the next big thing, and consequently it has become a buzzword in education. Quite a few organizations now offer ‘courses on AI’ to schoolchildren. Should our children be doing these courses? Are they missing out on something important if they don’t do these courses?

This post shares our views on 2 questions-

Should all children learn AI?

If children are interested in AI, what should they be doing to prepare themselves for a career in the field?

Should all children learn AI?

‘Learning AI’ can be at different levels. Clearly, all kids do not need to learn to be AI scientists/ experts. But everyone needs to appreciate AI.

This is similar to the current pandemic situation where people who are not experts in genetics, medicine, epidemiology or data analytics, still need to appreciate these areas to some degree. For example-

Any citizen looking at numbers such as- ‘80,000 vaccinated today’, or ‘cases fall by 5000 compared to yesterday’ should understand numbers and data sufficiently to ask- but what percentage of the population has been vaccinated? but what is the 7-day moving average trend in number of cases?

An administrator managing the pandemic response in a city has to understand the assumptions made by modelling experts when they project the trend in cases, whether children will be affected in the 3rd wave etc. (for instance, what assumptions does the model make about people wearing masks or maintaining social distancing)

If non-experts do not appreciate these fields to some extent, they can get fooled easily and their ability to solve problems is severely limited.

When a non-technical person appreciates AI, he can ask questions to assess what the limitations of a particular AI engine are (e.g. how this face recognition tool can make an error). He or she can also spot when a problem is amenable to AI approaches (e.g. we have a lot of training data on chest x-rays, so AI could learn to make a good diagnosis). Thus while he may not have the expertise to build the AI, he will know when to engage an AI expert.

Navin runs such a course on appreciating AI (check the Upcoming Courses section for details)

The above figures were drawn by a student, Radhika, who participated in the previous edition of the course. She says, “I made a program to determine the gender of a person. I made many stick figures of a woman and I made men too, and tested them on the program and it was generally correct.”

How should children interested in an AI Career prepare for it in High School?

When we say ‘AI career’ here, we mean people who will build AI solutions or do research in this area. There are many other careers possible in AI companies and teams that don’t really require knowledge of AI; just like people who work in analytics teams today whose focus might be on operating particular software, preparing data and so on.

The short answer to this question is that you don’t need to start learning AI in school. Instead you should focus on your Math fundamentals (not even college-level math) and programming (no need for AI/ML stuff).

Unfortunately there is noise in the environment around us, with some organizations claiming that our 14 or 15 year old can learn AI by doing a course or two when in school. Such an approach can do more harm than good because the child may develop an illusion of having learnt AI and ignore the importance of working on fundamentals of math (which may appear ‘less cool’).

Here are some extracts from Navin’s twitter thread, summarizing Ashwin Rao’s talk.

You should have done well in maths and statistics in school. Nothing fancy, no multivariate calculus. Just basic probability and statistics and basic calculus. You don’t have to be a star student in math, and you don’t have to be a topper. Just enjoying the subject is enough 

It is important that you understand maths from the first principles. You don’t need to be fast at problem solving or calculations. And you don’t need to memorize formulae. But you need to understand how the formulae were derived and where to apply them. 

The other thing that can help at high-school level, is basic programming. Any language will do (though Python is particularly good). And it doesn’t have to be any AI/ML specific programming. Just having fun with programming is good enough. 

It is not necessary to do AI/ML at school level (or even undergraduate). You can do a robotics course, but only if you’re enjoying it. The focus should be on fun, not on understanding the ML algorithms (at this stage). 

If you’re still a student, and keen on a career in AI/ML, this should be the plan. Notice how actual AI/ML shows up only during Masters. Before that the focus is on foundational maths and CS courses.

During undergraduate, the focus should still be on foundational courses in maths and computer science/programming but which build towards AI/ML. Here’s a list

The more of these you do, the better equipped you’ll be to do good work in AI/ML in the long term. Specific algorithms (e.g. CNNs, RNNs, reinforcement learning) come and go, specific tools (e.g. TensorFlow) come and go, but the fundamentals don’t change. 

Keep in mind that directly jumping to an ML course without good foundations will give you an illusion of learning, but you’ll be cargo-culting your way through it. Things will work but you don’t know why, and when they break, you won’t be able to fix them easily. 

Here’s Navin’s entire twitter thread (it also contains the link to his more detailed substack post).

And here’s a link to Ashwin Rao’s full talk-

Upcoming Events

Events @GenWise Club Lounge

What explains the Rise of Humans? (Understanding Yuval Harari)- Sat, Jun 26, 11 AM

Tanish, Rehaan and Sinan started having a conversation about ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari with GenWise mentor Radha Gopalan in the #movies-books-music channel. To take this conversation forward, excerpts from this talk will be played and discussed.

Experimental ‘Anti-Debate’- Sat, Jun 26, 4 PM

This session was born out of a conversation in the GenWise Club. Avnish suggested a few topics for a debate session to which Vishnu Agnihotri responded proposing an ‘anti-debate’ instead because many of the problems in the world are caused due to people not listening to/ understanding each other. Some students felt that an anti-debate is still a debate. To explore this, we are doing an experiment.

The motion is ‘Schools are not relevant to children in today’s world’. Adhavan is arguing for the motion and Sifar is arguing against the motion. Post this debate, Vishnu Agnihotri will engage with Adhavan in an anti-debate, where they will try to understand each other’s points and see if they can find common ground and hopefully start imagining a ‘third alternative’ together. Avnish, Mishti, Rehaan and a few other students are observers in this session.

‘Psychology of Money’ Book Discussions- Session#3- Sun, Jun 27, 3 PM

The facilitator, Vishwesh (a GenWise parent) is covering one chapter every week. The upcoming discussion is on chapter 3 (Never Enough) which looks at why no amount of money is every enough for some people and whether that’s a good thing.

Last Sunday’s discussion on Chapter 2 ‘Luck and Risk’ was highly engaging. How Bill Gates got rich, and the role of luck in his story, was discussed. The key takeaway was that extreme events (exceptional good luck or bad luck) can mislead us, and it is wise to stick to ‘broader patterns’ in planning how we approach our life and business.

How do I join the GenWise Club?

Check out this link for more about the club. To join-

Get an account for you and/ or your child on Discord

Use this invite (valid till June 30, 2021) to join the GenWise server. If the link doesn’t work, please send a whatsapp message to Vishnu on 9342247734 to receive the latest invite link. (Or email

Direct Message (DM) Vishnu with your full name and details (child/ parent, grade, school) once you slide into The GenWise Club!

External Events

Talk to a Scientist on using bacteria to generate electricity! – Join ‘Talk to a Scientist’ in their next episode where Dr. Kartik Aiyer of IIT Delhi will share about his work in electromicrobiology. Check out this facebook post for details. Saturday, June 26 2021, 5-6 pm IST. For ages 6-16. Register here. (Free)

For the love of food is a session brought to us by Bangalore International Centre (BIC). The talk is on Saturday, 26 June 2021 from 6-7 pm. For more details and to register, click here.

The session explores food as a living tradition, examining the cultural significance of different food practices and the diverse ways of archiving, conserving and sharing these culinary practices to promote sustainable food cultures. It also looks at the importance of recipes and local ingredients in defining the cultural identity of different communities.

The talk features Chef and founder of Edible Archives Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar, journalist and researcher Srishtaa Aparna Pallavi in conversation with curator and artist Suresh Jayaram.

History of Neuroscience- the case of Phineas Gage is presented by Synapse Society on Tuesday, June 29. Click here to register your interest.

Parenting: The Gift of Deep Listening

Dr. Bhooshan shares this excellent article from Psychology Today, and says, “We can achieve a lot by genuine listening. Listener and speaker, both benefit. This is an essential skill in parenting.”

The article starts off like this-

When I was a child, I told my mother all manner of things—what I thought about the color green, the dream I had about the big volcano, my most outlandish ideas (including the plan to build a hot air balloon with my best friend to circumnavigate the globe together). Often, when something was important to me—even if ridiculous from an adult’s perspective—she would pause whatever she was doing, we’d sit on the kitchen stools, and she would listen to what I had to say. Her presence was full and felt, notable in what was absent: She didn’t interrupt, correct, lecture, or give advice. She allowed long silences while I gathered myself. Occasionally she took notes and gave them to me in case I wanted to think over things later. Sometimes she asked questions or reflected back something I said. But mostly, she listened.

Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, GenWise Mentor MD, DNB, MRCPsych (London), Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Twitter – @docbhooshan

Join Dr. Bhooshan’s telegram channel to receive regular nuggets of parenting wisdom.

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Details of upcoming GenWise courses are shared below. Early registrations can avail an early bird discount.


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