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How might artificial intelligence (AI) prevent us from destroying ourselves? The seventh episode of this YouTube Original series provided some insights on how AI could help prevent animal extinction, famine, and war.


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Take the battle against ivory poachers. Trap cameras take photos of anything that moves. They capture images of elephants, a host of other animals, and possibly the occasional poacher. But manually processing the photos for poachers is so time-consuming that it might be too late to save the elephants.

However, an AI-enabled camera, one with a vision processing unit, detects people and sends only those photos immediately to the park rangers. This gives the rangers more time to intercept the poachers.

In the second segment of the video, the focus shifted to the meat that we eat. Like it or not, animal husbandry contributes to climate change by taking away natural resources and emitting greenhouse gases. If we are to shift to not-meat but not rely on Impossible Burgers, what alternatives are there?

One is an AI called Giuseppe that does not reconstitute meat and creates the perception of meat instead. It analyses how molecules in all foods create taste and texture, and recommends blends of analogues from plants.

NotCo, the company that uses Giuseppe, has already created NotMayo, NotMilk, and NotMeat. The video featured the development of NotTuna.

The third part of the video focused on predicting earthquakes. Like the poacher detection tool, sensors collect more noisy data than useful data. AI can be trained to recognise cultural sounds like transportation and construction, and distinguish those from a possible earthquake.

The final segment asked a broad question: Might AI be able to prevent disasters, unrest, or wars that stem from our misuse of natural resources?

To answer this question, a small company in the USA collects satellite images and relies on AI to identify and differentiate objects like solar panels and riverbeds. With AI as a tool, the company makes predictions like the output of cultivated crops in a year.

The predictions extend to man-made infrastructure and natural water sources. The example featured in the video was how measurements of snowfall could be used to predict water supply, which in turn correlates to crop yields.

If the snowfall was low, farmers could be advised to plant drought-resistant crops instead. If unrest or war stem from food or water shortage, such predictions might inform deployments of food aid before trouble erupts.

The overall message of this video countered the popular and disaster movie narratives of human-made AI running amok and killing us. Instead, it focused on how AI actually helps us become better humans.

Our Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh described five tests that Singaporeans had to pass before we might consider labelling ourselves First World.

I outline what he suggested:

  1. We not only stop littering, we also clear any litter we see.
  2. All our public toilets are clean, including the ones are food centres.
  3. We are civic-minded and polite, e.g., making way for others, speaking in hushed tones.
  4. We are culturally literate and appreciate our heritage and history.
  5. We care for nature and the environment.

Perhaps the label of First World is a misnomer because the tests are a tall order. No amount of tuition or enrichment is going to get us there.

The underlying principles are that we do good things without being told and we do the right things without rules.

I also see the markers as standards to strive for. They do not indicate that we have arrived at any particular stage because we can always be better than we were before.

If these are the principles and standards. how might they be taught or nurtured? Schooling and regulation can only do so much, or rather, so little.

One broad approach might be to take an outsider’s perspective. Being an insider looking out build envy. But learning to be an outsider from extended or immersive stays overseas could develop such critical reflection.

Universities here also have programmes that encourage foreign students to study here. Anecdotally, I notice them clump more than they mix. So if we send our students away on exchange programmes, they should not be sent in large groups.

Our students need better preparation before they leave. Other than fact sheets and expectations, they need to be taught how to observe, communicate, and reflect.

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…comes great consideration.

That is my take on the oft-quoted and misused “With great power comes great responsibility.”


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Very few people are granted great power. But just about everyone enjoys great convenience, e.g., public libraries, thanks to tax payer money and/or generous benefactors.

The problem is how poorly behaved we can sometimes be. Some people do not care for how others suffer as a result of their inconsiderate behaviours. Behaviours like talking in quiet spaces, reserving public spaces with personal belongings, and even performing personal grooming tasks.

Perhaps I have seen my unfair share of such behaviours because I use these informal works spaces for actual work. Perhaps we really are a third world people living in a first world.

I teach teachers. I used to focus on pre- and in-service teachers when I was a professor at NIE. Now I work with school teachers, polytechnic instructors, and future university faculty.

Part of that work is reviewing lesson plans and essays of those who are new to teaching. (When I say new, I mean uninitiated to the work of teaching and/or new to the scholarship of teaching.)
 

 
A phrase that these groups like to use in lesson designs and justifications for the same is “real-world problem”. I have a real problem with it.

How can teachers claim to design real-world problems from the confines of the classroom? How do they ensure that such problems are from the outside and not artificially manufactured?

How do teachers embrace the complexity and subjectivity of such problems? How do they actually start with questions instead of providing answers? How comfortable are they with not having all the solutions and being wrong in front of students?

“Real-world problems” seems to be a convenient catch-all term that looks good in plans and rationalisations. But it is also uncritical and lazy if teachers do not ponder the questions above first.

World Teachers’ Day has been marked annually on October 5th since 1994. According to UNESCO:

World Teachers’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. This Recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions.


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It is celebrated differently in various places or not at all. The video above is Ellen’s way. Singapore marks our own day in September.

I wonder when we might be more inclusive and global in our outlook on teachers and teaching. As much as teachers have in common in terms of problems, each system has its own issues. Teachers here might appreciate what they have here even more if they understood what their counterparts elsewhere do not.

I shared this cryptic tweet during the last #edsg fortnightly chat.

We had been focusing on the possible “game”-based changes to the Primary mathematics syllabus in Singapore.

I use “game” because what a teacher might understand as a game is not necessarily what students experience as gamers. A drill-and-practice “game” might be a welcome addition to the teacher toolbox, but it is not necessarily a game as the child understands it.

Hence, Godin’s blog entry was timely, specifically this part:

That’s why it’s so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

Another dimension of differing world views is the focus of the activity. To a teacher, it is MATH game; to kids, it is a math GAME. For an adult, the game is for learning a math principle; for a child, the game is for racking up points, being the fastest, or topping the charts.

The students are likely to enjoy game initially because of the novelty effect. They might even participate over a longer term because of the extrinsic rewards provided by gamification tools (which are not game-based learning).

Neither a reliance on novelty and extrinsic drive are desirable because a teacher might be forced to take part in the race to hyper stimulate and entertain.

If a teacher does not get forced into the “engage them” race, it is because students soon realise that drill-and-practice is not really a game and they reject this practice.

Adults rarely get into the child’s headspace when trying to plan activities that are supposed to be good for kids. So here are three guiding and core questions (as contextualised in game-based learning):

  1. What does the child think (is a game/about gaming)?
  2. How do they think (as they game)?
  3. What can I design based on sound educational psychology principles and rigorous research?

For the good of kids, we need to focus on what is good for kids. We start with a focus on kids, not curricula, syllabi, assessments, or policy. To be learner-centred, you have to be kid-centred first.

There is a common phrase that thought leaders in education often use: Schools are disconnected with the real world.

They do not mean this literally, of course. They are referring to the bubble that schools create and operate in. For example, one only need look at math word problems, high stakes tests that you cannot retake quickly, and the general teach just-in-case approach.
 

 
Schools are part of the real world in the sense that students and teachers face real issues and problems. There is bullying, adjusting to change, learning on the run, dealing with difficult people, keeping to deadlines, following instructions you do not understand or believe in, etc. Now consider what the students face!

However, schools might not be as connected to the wider world as they could be. One need only think of mobile phone restrictions or outright bans as punitive measures for controlling human behaviour.

Today the phone is a key communication and connection tool, but some schools demand it be left out of the tool kit. As a result, both teachers and students do not learn how to use it effectively and responsibly for teaching and learning.

The adults and kids have already adopted behaviours about mobile phone use from home, their ride to school, the mall, and everywhere else but school. These behaviours are not what the school needs. For example, schools do not need people looking down at their phones while they walk, sending hateful texts, and using resources irresponsibly. The realms outside school — the real world — do not teach rationales and counter-behaviours.

So in that sense schools should not be part of the real world because it has to shape a better world. In order to do so, schools have to be better connected to the wider world so that they can problem-seek and problem-solve. They can start by officially welcoming mobile phones.

To make a better world, both teachers and students need to negotiate new behaviours with their phones in school. Schools might start with some questions. How might schools:

  • connect with the wider world with these devices?
  • leverage on phones to create a better world by communicating, sharing, and critiquing?
  • help students find things out by themselves?
  • help students find themselves?
  • help students help others?

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