With Moonhack about to lift off, the annual record-setting global event to get as many kids coding as possible, Jackie Coates, Head of Telstra Foundation chats to Telstra’s Group Executive Product & Technology, Christian von Reventlow about the importance of coding and AI education for young minds.

Jackie Coates: It’s the 50th Anniversary of the first moon landing this year and to celebrate we’re aiming to get tens of thousands of kids coding across the world as part of our annual Code Club Moonhack campaign. Why do you think parents should get their kids to learn how to code?

Christian von Reventlow: I believe it’s vital for kids to learn how to code. I have taught my own children and it’s certainly a skill they’ll have for life and can build upon. I think initiatives like Code Club and Moonhack are a great first step because they demystify technology and enable children to “get under the digital bonnet” and understand it better. When a child learns coding, they are also developing skills in critical thinking, persistence and problem-solving – skills needed as they grow up. Coding can also help develop mathematics skills and despite what many people think, it actually helps them to be more creative as it encourages curiosity and teaches us to be a bit fearless and not worry about making mistakes.

JC: What advice do you have then, for parents with young children?

CvR: The challenge for parents nowadays is around how we can help young people with the skills they need to thrive in the future. We need a pipeline of future developers to take the first step and get kids coding. There are thousands of Code Clubs around Australia that can sew the seed. Parents don’t have to know how to code to start which is a great thing.

JC: There is a sense of urgency and sometimes it feels we are in a bit of an arms race in education with technology evolving so quickly – it’s hard to keep pace, would you agree?

CvR: It’s true, things are moving fast which is why we need to futureproof this learning investment in our young kids. Just like we looked at the moon and said one day we’ll walk on it, we need to look at AI with a future focus. Young people will need to understand machine learning and the concept of AI – really know how it works in order to make more informed and critical use of these technologies.

We need to start thinking about AI literacy because coding itself is evolving. It is shifting to a self-coding model where AI will create its own code. This is different from classic programming which describes what the machine does. In AI, the machine finds patterns to program and the deterministic nature of programming gets lost in AI scenarios as a result. I don’t think we’ve fully digested the meaning and impact of this, which is why we need to up-skill our young people to be AI literate so they can better understand this future.

JC: You’ve written a book about Artificial Intelligence where you advocate it must become a tool for everyone. What do you think the challenge will be for young people growing up in a world where machine learning and AI is increasingly pervasive?

CvR: I think one of the biggest changes in the next two decades will be increase relevance of artificial intelligence changing the way we live our lives. Digital Assistants, Chatbots, music and video recommendations, flying planes are just some of the ways it’s in our everyday lives now. So given this context, if our children have an early understanding of how it works, they’ll be better equipped to live, work, and interact in this future world.

Along with an understanding of AI and machine learning – such as how bots learn, how algorithms work and how data is being collected – we also need to teach kids how they can humanise AI and adapt it. This is critical because this is what humans will ultimately need to do in an AI-saturated world. We will need to make sure the next generation has the programming skills to ensure AI is inclusive and reflects the social, cultural and moral standards of contemporary society.

Parents can introduce their children to the concepts of AI through educational projects online like Cognimates which was developed by the MIT Media Lab.

About Moonhack

Moonhack is an initiative of Code Club Australia, powered by Telstra Foundation. This year’s event will be held on July 20 to July 26 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing – and we’re looking for more Aussie kids to get involved. To take part, you’ll need a computer with internet access and a passion for discovery. Simply register your interest and prepare for lift off! Kids can take part in the challenge at home by themselves or in groups.