Artificial Intelligence is right at the heart of the Zeitgeist at the moment - no self-respecting cutting-edge company is without its A.I. research facility.
Google’s experimental A.I. system is called Deep Mind. When it was first set up, they started it off on early video games. As the researchers wanted Deep Mind to learn how to learn independently, they didn’t supply any rules to the games, they left it alone to figure them out for itself. This was hugely successful and Deep Mind is now capable of very much more than a killer Tetris score.
When I came across the article about Deep Mind, I had to re-read it several times. There was no inkling of doubt in the researcher’s minds. Allowing the system to investigate, explore, play, make its own mistakes and so on without any level of instruction was absolutely taken as read as not just the best, but the only way to teach Deep Mind how to learn for itself. Without question, in their minds, this was how to develop an independent sentient intelligence.
Call me simplistic but I couldn’t help wondering why, if this method was deemed the obvious choice, we are so reticent to use it when it comes to educating our children. Granted, very young children are given more of an opportunity to learn through play and experience, but it’s not long before this model is replaced by the expectation to sit quietly and absorb information being delivered by a teacher.
Finding things out for ourselves gives us more than facts to remember, it even gives us more than a palette of techniques to use to acquire knowledge. Independent learning gives us confidence in our ability to learn. Without this, all education is an uphill battle.
The best schooling and the best teachers enable children’s learning by allowing them to take responsibility for it themselves. And this is so with informal learning as well as in the classroom. With the pressures of day to day life it can be tempting to hurry our children along, depriving them of the time they need to discover, by trial and error, their capabilities and how they are able to function in the big wide world.
Wherever we can, we should be facilitating children’s learning by giving them the time to figure it out for themselves. If it’s good enough for Deep Mind then surely it’s good enough for further human generations too.
The other day I was gazing idly out of my front window when a young family walked by - mum, dad and a little girl of around two. She was holding onto her mother’s hand and happily chattering away to her as they walked down the street. It hit me suddenly and strongly: this little girl has a total disregard for the fact that she’s a child.
I was recently reminded of ‘The Liver Birds’ the 1970s sitcom starting Nerys Hughes and Polly James (check) as a couple of flat sharing girls carving out their own lives in Liverpool. I was around six when it first came out. I remember sitting at the top of our stairs with a pal from school ‘playing’ the girls. It was my life’s ambition to move to a city and share a place with a girlfriend. It’s commonplace now, but at the time such an arrangement was anything but. The Liver Birds were so different from any other portrayal of women on television at the time. They were my heroines, showing me that I didn’t necessarily need to marry a man to get out of the familial home and on with my life. I loved them.