In thinking about how to teach non–computer science students about AI, I’ve been considering what fundamental concepts they need to understand. I was thinking about models and how to explain them. My searches led me to this 8-minute BBC video: What exactly is an algorithm?
I’ve explained algorithms to journalism students in the past — usually I default to the “a set of instructions” definition and leave it at that. What I admire about this upbeat, lively video is not just that it goes well beyond that simple explanation but also that it brings in experts to talk about how various and wide-ranging algorithms are.
The young presenter, Jon Stroud, starts out with no clue what algorithms are. He begins with some web searching and finds Victoria Nash, of the Oxford Internet Institute, who provides the “it’s like a recipe” definition. Then he gets up off his butt and visits the Oxford Internet Institute, where Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow, gives Stroud a tour of the server room and a fuller explanation.
“Algorithms calculate based on a bunch of features, the sort of things that will put something at the top of the list and then something at the bottom of the list.”—Bernie Hogan, Oxford Internet Institute
He meets up with Isabel Maccabee at Northcoders, a U.K. coding school, and participates in a fun little drone-flying competition with an algorithm.
“The person writing the code could have written an error, and that’s where problems can arise, but the computer doesn’t make mistakes. It just does what it’s supposed to do.”—Isabel Maccabee, Northcoders
Stroud also visits Allison Gardner, of Women Leading in AI, to talk about deskilling and the threats and benefits of computers in general.
This video provides an enjoyable introduction with plenty of ideas for follow-up discussion. It provides a nice grounding that includes the fact that not everything powerful about computer technology is AI!
AI in Media and Society by Mindy McAdams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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