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.
We can’t achieve anything that we can’t imagine ourselves doing. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget how potent this truism is when it comes to our children. How our children think about themselves, how they imagine they are is the most powerful influence on how they think about their own future.
Now this might seem a bit rich from someone who writes a blog every week about communication with children and young people, but in this column I’d like to touch on having faith in your own judgement, rather than stressing out about what you read is the correct way to do things.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about ‘praise’ - this week, I’d like to deal with it’s cousin ‘expectation’.
That voice that comes from inside us, telling us not to even bother trying, because we’re just no good at it; telling us we are and always have been hopeless at maths, spelling, art or whatever - that voice came from somewhere.