Responsible AI: shaping the next generation’s ethics for an uncertain future

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

As Artificial Intelligence (AI) begins to encroach on our everyday lives, questions are being asked about how we can manage it ethically, while still ensuring that these new technologies do not cause harm.

Questions about the essential topics to learn within this constantly evolving space are also being asked.

Australia’s AI Month – 15 November to 15 December – is a CSIRO-led initiative that aims to illuminate the possibility of Australia’s AI landscape. This initiative plays a significant role in the National Artificial Intelligence Centre’s mission to pave the way for a responsible and inclusive AI future for Australia.

But while AI Month is dedicated to spotlighting our nation’s AI proficiency and championing the responsible creation and adoption of AI, some experts are keen to remind us that there are several ways AI, if not handled properly, could be potentially detrimental to future generations.

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  • AI could threaten our privacy rights
  • AI can often create data bias
  • AI can lead to an unwillingness to make difficult decisions
  • AI has the potential to harm academic integrity.

AI education must include critical thinking skills

Education is at the heart of ensuring knowledge around AI is comprehensive and relevant, with a spokesperson from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering telling EducationDaily that schoolchildren must learn how to use AI appropriately and in the proper contexts.

“They will need critical thinking skills to assess whether output from an AI is trustable or accurate,” he says.

“For example, when it comes to images and videos, they need to understand the risks and consequences of creating or distributing AI-generated materials to others. Schools and universities are looking at questions of plagiarism and academic honesty – kids will need to understand what work they must do themselves and what they can get AI assistance with.”

In her essay AI is changing the way people work – How do we skill our future workforce to ensure these new jobs stay on shore?, University of Adelaide Executive Dean of Sciences Engineering and Technology Professor Katrina Falkner wrote about concerns that young people may use AI technology to discuss mental health, rather than talking to a human.

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“While, for some students, discussing mental health issues with an AI may make them more comfortable to seek help for mental health issues, some students may be less likely to access timely interventions, might receive poor advice, or mental ill health may even be exacerbated by such interactions,” she writes.

“Systems with high levels of human intervention will still be necessary to identify at-risk students and intervene swiftly and appropriately.”

STEM in schools is fundamental to future-shaping the workforce

According to LinkedIn, Coursera, and the World Economic Forum data, 85 million jobs will be displaced between 2020 and 2025.

AI will replace many of those jobs; however, more than 90 million will also open up.

“Up to 25–46 per cent of existing jobs could be automated by 2030, yet each year only 7,000 students leave university with the right skills to take on digital skill roles,” the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering spokesperson told EducationDaily. “STEM education in schools is fundamental for shaping the skills of the future.”

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STEM, with a focus on AI education and training, is a must for Australia to fill its future workforce shortfall and ensure our students are employable, says Professor Falkner.

“We need to ensure we create the talent pool required to handle the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, starting with promoting core digital literacy and AI awareness from an early age, building awareness of basic AI concepts, tools and platforms along with broader digital literacy skills and an awareness of ethical considerations and potential societal impacts to shape the development and deployment of AI in a responsible manner,” Professor Falkner writes.

“There is a need to develop AI-focused educational programs and training initiatives to support our schools in building the fundamentals and our universities and other educational institutions in shaping the next generation of STEM and AI experts and supporting a culture of reskilling and continuous learning in our workforce. Furthermore, AI is changing rapidly — so this is not a once-off education need but must be an ongoing process in line with the rapid pace of technological change.”

Reskilling and upskilling are critical

Professor Falkner is calling on industry to work with educational institutions to reskill and upskill to support workers in the transition to AI-driven fields.

“How do we do this? Supporting our schools in STEM education and our teachers needs to be one of our highest priorities, ranging from offering ongoing, sustained teacher professional learning to allowing our teachers to enhance their STEM expertise and build awareness of AI,” she writes.

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“This requires building dedicated AI-focused professional learning and curriculum, integrating real-world applications, and partnering with industry to align and reflect the latest industry trends and real-world examples of careers and impact. But we are not starting from nothing — we can continue supporting the many existing STEM-focused professional learning programs currently supporting so many of our teachers.”

To support industries to engage successfully with the changing world of AI, Professor Falkner believes, requires investment in relevant infrastructure – “as well as ensuring that the necessary technological infrastructure, such as high-speed internet and cloud computing services, is widely accessible and that the digital divide in our society is mitigated”.

“Programs that support and promote AI entrepreneurship and innovation, encouraging start-ups and small businesses to engage with AI, will be critical to building a workforce ready to take on the challenge of AI, and to foster and keep our future generations of STEM graduates.”

Staff training is at the core of delivering quality STEM education

The biggest issue to grapple with in schools is training of staff so they can be aware of what AI can do to support their students’ learning.

“Teachers are highly trained and spend a lot of time with students,” Professor Falkner told EducationDaily. “They understand their capabilities so are less likely to be fooled by students using AI as long as they understand what AI’s current capabilities are. Training should be a priority for schools. Staff should be given the opportunity to use AI to develop lesson plans and assessments. This hands-on experience would help them understand what students can do with the tools – and be prepared, should it be used in a way they do not support.”

To prepare for the unfolding AI revolution, Professor Falkner says schools need to show they are not afraid of AI, but have strategies to use it, and support students using it. They also need to support their teachers and broader community members to learn more about how to use it.

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AI education will come at a cost

For parents keen to help prepare their school-aged children for an AI-driven future, Dr Edward Palmer from the University of Adelaide says “the key skill to ensure students learn is critical thinking but that needs to be built on foundational knowledge”.

“AI can help with that, but our teachers are an integral part of that process. Parents play a role in supporting teachers, and doing their best to understand the technology their children are using. Clear communications from the school to parents around the acceptable use of AI are important. AI is likely to form part of a student’s suite of tools, but its use won’t always be desirable from a learning perspective,” he told EducationDaily.

Education around AI, she believes, must ensure students “understand the limitations of AI and they need to understand that there are some elements of learning that just require hard work”.

“This new technology will demand some short-term resource allocation towards training, which will need to be funded,” Professor Falkner says. “Universities are ready to support government and schools in facilitating this process but, as this is one of the biggest changes in technology since the internet, there will be a financial cost to support our teachers, children and parents.”

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Michael R Williams has been writing for regional newspapers for the past 3 years, including delivering the Longreach Leader to its 100th year. He is passionate about the opportunity journalism offers him to interview and tell the stories of Australians with a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. He is an obsessive reader and podcast listener.