Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems figure out whether a credit card transaction is a scam or not, they decide which ads, articles, or posts to show to web surfers, they tag images uploaded to social networks, they do most of the trading in stock markets, and we already see auto-text translation, autonomous cars, self-writing AI software, and much more. How come you don't learn about all this in school, and that AI courses aren't compulsory even in computer science majors at some of Israel's universities?
Before we explore this question, let's mention what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is. These are software systems designed to discover rules (or models) based on information that is fed into the system, attempting to mimic the human thinking process. For example, an AI model assesses whether a current transaction is valid or fraudulent based on previous examples of valid and invalid credit transactions. A great leap in the field has started a decade ago, due to the growth in the amount of data and in the compute power, followed by the invention of new methods for modeling data and identifying rules. The most significant breakthroughs were obtained using "deep learning", an AI method inspired by the neurons in the brain. This method enables most of the applications mentioned above, which outperform the human capabilities in some cases.
The importance of this field has already been recognized by many countries during the last decade, and national programs on the subject have been adopted. Since 2018, several expert teams have been established in Israel to develop a national strategy in the field. Recently, government activities have begun to promote AI research and development in industry, academy, and the public sector. Through this activity, Israeli industrial and academic centers of excellence in artificial intelligence are intended to expand, and new ones will be created. However, education for the wider audience, and in particular teaching in schools, is not at the center of these new programs.
As was mentioned, we are all interacting with AI systems, and we should all know how they function and use them optimally. Since there is not yet a national curriculum for teaching the subject in schools, several initiatives have been launched to promote acquaintance with the field. Intel started a 9-grade AI teaching program a year ago in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the Davidson Institute with the help of dozens of volunteers from the company. The program has expanded to a dozen schools this year, and it is also implemented in other countries. As another example, the Rashi Foundation's Magshimim program, which focuses on cyber education for high schools in the periphery, has just launched a new program in AI about a month ago. The Rehovot municipality also started an enrichment program in AI for middle schools this year.
While diverse AI courses are offered in higher education engineering and computer science departments, an AI course is not yet compulsory in them across all universities. One of the reasons is that demand exceeds supply, making it difficult to recruit lecturers in the field due to competition from the industry. Beyond theoretical studies, there are also not enough practical courses available. Consequently, there are also various initiatives of private companies that collaborate with academia on this subject. As an example, I and other employees of my group have been volunteering to teach an introductory AI course in a bachelor's degree in computer science at Tel Aviv University for the past five years.
Hopefully, the new activities and programs, which are important and welcomed, will be expanded and addressed to everyone. In my opinion, every student in Israel should at least be familiar with Artificial Intelligence as a vital daily life skill. Moreover, just like Israel invests in advanced cyber teaching, starting in high schools, AI should occupy a similar place. All of us are affected by this technology - it is important that everyone becomes aware of its challenges and opportunities. Let's do our homework and get ready.
Dr. Amitai Armon is Chief Data Scientist, IT AI Group, Intel. Dr. Armon is speaking this week at the AI Week 2022 conference, from The Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University, co-founded by Intel.