2001’s HAL 9000 to teach Cork primary school students about AI

11 Apr 2018

An Amazon Echo Dot. Image: Cathy Hargreaves/Shutterstock

While it might be a relief that the real HAL 9000 isn’t teaching children, the AI from science fiction has formed the basis for a new educational tool.

This month marked a major milestone in science-fiction history as Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film 2001: A Space Odyssey marked its 50th anniversary.

Among its famous characters was the artificial intelligence (AI) known as HAL 9000 (Heuristically-programmed ALgorithmic computer) that controlled and maintained the spacecraft destined for a mysterious object near Jupiter.

Future Human

While HAL proved to be one of the most famous cases of AI gone awry in science fiction, it will now be used as the basis for a new initiative to stimulate discussion among students on AI and deep learning as well as the controls and information that we give our devices and computers in our daily lives.

The HAL programme is being rolled out by the Cork Electronics Industry Association (CEIA), Cork’s technology network to primary schools. It says it is especially important given the prevalence of AI today through devices such as the Amazon Echo and other personal assistants embedded within our smartphones.

The CEIA HAL programme will provide an online resource kit for teachers of fifth- and sixth-class students. It will initiate discussion firstly around HAL’s role in the film, but then more widely about technology on a macro and micro level, from our society to our homes, and the ethical considerations for the future.

Opportunity to reflect on AI’s control

Running in the final school term, students will storyboard their own HAL story and work on poster and video presentations, which will be shared with their peers and viewed by a panel of experts.

All participating schools will be invited to send a representative group of students to share their learnings at a final event in June 2018, when students receive certification of completion.

Speaking of the programme, Valerie Cowman, chair of the Skills and Education Committee of CEIA, said: “This initiative is about giving students the opportunity to reflect on the control and information that we freely hand over, and about examining some of the potential outcomes in society as we give more and more to machines and machine learning.

“We want the students to have fun, and to see the opportunities as well as the challenges of the incredible technology we have in our world today and potentially tomorrow.”

An Amazon Echo Dot. Image: Cathy Hargreaves/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic