AI Decoded: New online course seeks to demystify Artificial Intelligence for all

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Media Release by UNESCO

Artificial Intelligence is fast becoming an essential part of how we work, live and interact with one another, yet many people lack basic knowledge of what AI is, and the impact it might have. Destination AI, a new open online course produced by Institut Montaigne in collaboration with UNESCO, OpenClassrooms and Fondation Abeona, seeks to close this knowledge gap, offering an inventive and informative approach to learning about what makes AI tick.

Today, over 50% of organizations worldwide report using some form of AI in their operations, but many people still lack foundational knowledge concerning what AI is, or its potential risks, benefits, and impacts. Moreover, women and girls are 25% less likely than men to know how to leverage digital technology for basic purposes, pointing to a further critical gender divide in the future of AI skill development. If left unchecked, these knowledge gaps may prove detrimental not only to the future of mental health and work in the digital age but may also prevent the next generation from adequately leveraging the opportunities AI presents.

A new open online course, Destination AI, in collaboration with UNESCO, Institut Montaigne, OpenClassrooms and Fondation Abeona seeks to close these gaps in the form of an open and accessible online course. We sat down with some of the minds behind the development of Destination AI to learn more about its goals, challenges, and potential impact. Democratizing knowledge about the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence can be challenging, especially when directed towards young audiences.

“Young people understand technology because they play on their phones, but they might not know the implications of it in terms of privacy or in terms of the risks they’re taking. Young people are even more exposed, because they use AI in ways that are more diverse: if they don’t know what they’re doing, they’ll be exposed to higher risk,” Tanya PerelmuterAbeona Foundation.

“It’s very important to understand and identify [AI] use cases, and to explain how AI mechanisms work in a very broad sense: how they’re operating and how we control the way in which we interact with them,” Milo RignellHead of the Digital Program at Institut Montaigne.

One concrete example is identifying the use of AI in a news feed, for instance, with respect to the way content is pushed towards us: knowing that certain algorithms can lead to things like deepfakes or understanding the way in which objectives are set for AI algorithms, which push you towards certain types of content. If you want to contribute to developing useful AI based solutions in a whole list of domains linked to environmental change, health, or education for instance, it’s important that people understand the basics of how technology works, and how we interact with [AI] tools in different sectors.

What is Destination AI?

Destination AI has been designed with precisely this risk-benefit and case-based approach in mind, running across 12 modules which address aspects such as AI’s risks, benefits, and societal impact, as well as the steps involved in an AI-based projects and the fundamentals of machine learning.

“We start by demystifying AI, by saying what it’s not. This is important: if you stop somebody on the street and ask them what AI is, you’re going to get very different definitions. You have to start by dispelling the myth,” Tanya Perelmuter

“The second part gives a flavor of AI’s potential, addressing very concrete risks that people encounter in everyday life, as well as the fear that AI systems will come to replace their jobs. It’s very important to define AI not only as a technical abstraction,” Milo Rignell

The final part of the course delves into the technical detail and practical implementation of an AI project: if participants want to make AI part of their life goals and career, this will help them know where to turn for their education.

To date, Destination AI has educated over 250,000 online participants from various disciplines, sectors, and age groups around the world. One participant, Zachary Pascaud, hailed the course as being “exceptionally clear and well designed”, and had given him a comprehensive view of AI from the perspective of different stakeholders.

“When it comes to explaining AI, it’s easy to get lost in the sauce. [The course] taught me how to explain things that aren’t easy to explain,” Zachary PascaudParticipant in the course

Destination AI is currently available in English and French and can be taken free of charge online. The course typically requires less than 6 hours from start to finish and no prerequisites are needed.

In the future, the team has set their sights on broad dissemination: the key objective is AI literacy. The goal is to reach as many people as possible with a basic understanding of AI, where other, more specialized institutions can complement this education. The creators of the course hope that young girls and women will be able to follow it, and that is one way of addressing a particular bias. The more they are aware of how AI is used, the fairer AI will become.


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