By Carolyn “CC” Song, High School Senior and Personal Robots Intern
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Whether the last time you thought about this question was a few days ago or a few decades ago, your answer has the power to potentially set you on a course for life.
For kids nowadays, future opportunities in the tech world are more abundant than ever. More specifically, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) is growing at an incredibly rapid rate and the careers that correspond to it are multiplying as well. That’s why I believe it is essential to introduce kids to these jobs as early as possible, because awareness around these opportunities is the first step to closing wage gaps and inequalities across race and gender lines that are prevalent in tech-related fields. Through my time as an intern in the Personal Robots group at the MIT Media Lab, I have learned so much about AI and how it might apply to my own career. I wanted to create an opportunity for other students to learn about it as well. That’s why I created a YouTube video series to highlight a diverse group of professionals in AI.
Before I continue, let me first introduce myself! Hi, my name is CC and I’m a high school senior who interned with the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots group (PRG) this summer. Being 17 doesn’t usually have many advantages when it comes to conducting research or creating curriculum, but for this project, it was actually my secret advantage to be closer in age to the middle school students we are teaching. Having gone through that part of life just a few years ago, I have a strong sense of what will attract middle schoolers’ interests and get our point across. Combined with my unique experience working in the Personal Robots group, I can combine my life experience with my personal interest in how AI actually applies in the “real world.”
I’ve noticed that prior to entering college and the workforce, many of my peers assume that AI is only explored in tech jobs where strong math and CS skills are required. Younger students may not even know that accessible AI jobs exist, since they assume AI is so advanced and futuristic that only the most experienced handful of scientists can access it.
As a result of these misconceptions, I have seen many of my peers question their dreams of following a career in AI. Sometimes it’s a great opportunity to realize that they’re even more passionate about another field, but oftentimes it comes from lack of confidence, support, representation, and education from the adults around them. I hope that this series of videos will show kids that there is someone like them who is already succeeding in their career, whether that is a woman in STEM, an underrepresented minority, or simply someone who has found a unique way to combine AI with art, law, design, or more.
There were a number of principles I wanted to follow when creating this video series. Accessibility was really important to me, especially now that the pandemic has moved a lot of learning online. Creating a YouTube video series makes this information readily available to both students and teachers, and is a simple and meaningful way for kids to begin to explore these ideas. When it came to the content of these videos, my goal was to share honest, unfiltered perspectives directly from real people who use AI in their careers. I also wanted to make sure that these videos disproved the stereotype that an AI career only refers to someone who writes code all day. To do that, I interviewed people who work with AI in vastly different fields, from social media, to art, to space technology, and more. Likewise, I sought to include speakers who represented racial, gender, and geographical diversity. My hope is that any young student can see themselves represented on screen in multiple ways so that they never abandon hopes of pursuing an AI-related job simply because they don’t think they fit the conventional image of an AI professional.
An amazing part of doing this project is that, through my quest to educate younger students, I ended up learning so much about AI careers myself. I learned that being curious about different career paths was helpful in narrowing down what I was interested in. I’m still applying to college where I’ll have four more years to figure it out, but the knowledge I gained this summer has been an incredible inspiration and first step.
First of all, I was introduced to fields that I had never even heard of before, one of them through Alexandra Klotz, a Product Design Lead at a self-driving car startup. Prior to meeting her, I had never really thought about designers outside the context of fashion and visual arts, so her job and connection to AI through self-driving cars was very unique.
I also learned a lot about the interdisciplinary power of AI, and how it can really be intertwined with almost any other subject if you are passionate enough about bringing the two together. Some examples from the people I interviewed include Dr. Danielle Wood, whose work combines social justice, environmental protection, and AI-related space technology. Dr. Kate Darling researches the intersection of law and AI, and Dr. Claudio Pinhanez combined his passion for soccer and the FIFA World Cup with AI. As someone who hopes to pursue Mechanical Engineering in the future but has always been interested in too many subjects at the same time, I found that talking to these incredibly talented scientists who have forged their own interdisciplinary paths gave me hope that I will be able to do something similar in the future.
We hear about successful careers all the time, but we rarely see all the early phases that inspired and led up to them. Yet, these are the parts of life that many of us middle and high schoolers can actually relate to, such as having an obsession with science fiction books or playing video games, which multiple of the interviewees shared with me. Simply being able to talk to so many women in STEM and women of color in STEM was inspiring. There were also many specific projects that left me totally awestruck, such as Aman Dalmia’s project to create a program capable of weighing and measuring babies in rural Indian communities without touching them. Plus, the talented members of the Personal Robots group, who have welcomed me with kindness into their community for the past two summers, represent a diversity of skills, genders, races, and ethnicities. Their mentorship has had a huge influence on me, and I will always be grateful for this incredible opportunity Dr. Breazeal afforded me, which has reshaped how I think about the future of technology and the role I hope to play in it. In the future, PRG will continue to expand the series, engaging in co-design with teachers and students across the country to cover more topics that will appeal to and inspire them.
Finally, let’s talk about how to use these videos and their guiding questions, and how you can introduce them to your students. Each video asks a big question such as “What is AI?” and “What is your advice for younger students that are interested in learning about AI?” followed by answers from our interviewees. Our hope is that by showing different perspectives back to back, students will have many perspectives that they could potentially resonate with.
Here are some ideas for how you can use these videos as an educator or otherwise:
- Watch as a class and then discuss together
- Watch as a class and have students dive further into one particular career path
- Use as supplemental homework that you ask the students to reflect on/write about, or discuss in class the next day
- Watch with your own friends or family and discuss
I’m excited to introduce the first two videos in this series: “How does AI relate to your job?” and “What is AI?” Below you can find links to both videos and some guiding questions to begin having a conversation.