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The Future is Already Here 

The Future is Already Here 

Learning is at the core of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machines are now able to act as students that sense and comprehend their environment, take appropriate actions and learn from their experiences.  

In September, both students and parents were given an opportunity to learn more about the fascinating world of AI through a series of events, including a middle school assembly, “break out” sessions for Upper School students and an evening keynote presentation and panel discussion with noted AI expert, Bart de Witte, and other FIS community experts. The various sessions were thoughtfully planned out and coordinated by FIS parent and board member, Dr. James Beaty; FIS parent, Andreas Dietrich; and FIS Director of ICT, Gareth Brewster.

Humans have special skills which machines do not…imagination and compassion. 

The two-hour evening program was co-facilitated by Dr. Beaty and Zofia Borowski, a Grade 11 student, and began with a keynote speech from Mr. de Witte, who asserted, “The future is already here!” Mr. de Witte, who is a global speaker on AI and faculty member at the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich, laid the foundation for the evening with a few basic points about AI. “Data is the new natural resource,” he said. “And it is growing exponentially.” He explained that AI-capable machines are now able to independently learn by identifying patterns in very large amounts of data.

Alessandro Donati, an FIS parent and Head of Advanced Mission Concepts and Technologies Office (AMCTO) at the European Space Agency (ESA), also joined the discussion and said, “Data is the source of knowledge for AI.” He spoke about AI in regard to space exploration and said, “Space is a very difficult environment and man cannot do every task. Machines are needed.” Mr. Donati further explained that AI helps allow humanlike learning to occur in places like Mars where humans are currently unable to go. “AI is an important enabler for new technologies,” he added.

Dr. Murat Ünal, an FIS parent and co-founder of SONEAN, brought the discussion back to earth and said, “Narrow AI (artificial intelligence applied to very specific tasks) is here to assist us, not to replace us.” As an expert in data and network analytics, Dr. Ünal said that “combining human intelligence with machine intelligence gets better results,” and that “we should use technology to empower human beings.”  

Mr. de Witte introduced the concept of the Centaur, a mythological Greek creature made up of half-man and half-horse, to encapsulate Mr. Ünal’s assertion. He said, “Humans have special skills which machines do not…imagination and compassion,” for instance. He explained that the Centaur model suggests a hybrid entity whereby combining human and computer is superior to each working independently. 

FIS Head of School Dr. Paul Fochtman confirmed his belief in the Centaur model when asked a question by a young student in the audience. The boy asked if and when super robots will be the only teachers in classrooms. Dr. Fochtman said that he doesn’t believe that students “...will ever be solely taught by robots,” but rather that “teachers will be augmented by the power of them.”

Dr. Fochtman spoke further about AI in education by saying, “We are in a transformational time. Knowing how to understand, use and apply AI will be critical for the future of both teaching and learning.”  

Mr. de Witte offered some career advice to the audience suggesting that workers need to retrain and stay away from fields like radiology for instance, because a computer can perform such tasks better than a human. He offered his list of important 21st century skills, “…critical thinking, creative thinking, communications and collaborative and team skills.”

During the panel discussion, Mr. de Witte was also asked about the role privacy plays in AI now and in the future. He responded, “Privacy is important, but in the future it will be hard to have privacy.” Panelist Dr. Bettina Rowlands, an FIS parent and expert on product innovation of consumer goods added, “Society needs to decide what core values we will not give up."

Toward the end of the evening, Dr. Ünal reminded the audience that AI should be viewed as a tool, an assistant or a peer. “The human brain has 100 billion neurons, and we haven’t even figured out how this complex network is connected,” he said. “Machines can’t replace us. AI will simply empower us to do better.”  

Emmett Kelly
FIS Parent


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