.Brains and Bots: TinkTech tween teaches AI

Artificial Intelligence is a popular topic of conversation of late—one that is simultaneously celebrated and somehow controversial.

In just the past few months, weeks and even days, this decades-old concept of manmade brain power has careened headfirst into household relevance. And, by all indications, AI isn’t a trend that will fade out of popularity any time soon.

So, where does that leave those with non-artificial intelligence, and what measures and steps can be taken to coexist with such advanced forms of technology? Well, it may be best to leave it to the experts to explain. And, in this particular scenario, one such expert is 12-year-old Kaz Keller, who has taken it upon himself to teach a workshop on an AI chat program called ChatGPT.

“[ChatGPT] is a fun thing to teach other people,” Keller said. “It’s also a fun way to connect with my Dad because, well, sometimes he can be bad with tech, like sometimes he doesn’t know how to airplay! He is better at business and marketing.”

Keller has a long history of involvement in the Marin STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) community. Before launching his ChatGPT workshop, he participated in a Design and Entrepreneurship camp at Marin’s own TinkerTech.

TinkerTech offers technology classes to children in and around Marin County and the greater Bay Area with tech education from passionate industry experts. Alongside lessons in AI, children aged 5 to 15 may attend TinkerTech camps to learn, or refine, their skills in coding, robotics, design, animation and more.

“Coding, robots and AI classes are far and away the most popular classes at TinkerTech,” said founder Claire Comins. “Parents want their children to understand these subjects, as education is empowering. To understand something is to not need to fear it so much.”

Teaching children how to code and what an AI is can empower everyone, Comins said.

“It helps people realize that [AI] was something created by a human and that the computer only does what you tell it to do,” Comins continued.

Keller met Comins at his school’s science fair, where TinkerTech was providing robots for “tinkering activities.” Having recently aged out of his previous summer program, he was eager to expand his horizons.

“Kaz is a very special child,” Comins said. “Very curious and fascinated and capable—he absolutely took on all of the challenges put on by TinkerTech.”

Armed with the knowledge and momentum from having attended TinkerTech’s Design and Entrepreneurship camp, where Keller brushed up on his 3-D modeling and laser-cutting skills, the preteen turned his attention to business.

“I used to set up lemonade stands to make pocket money,” Keller said. “My Dad asked me what else I could do that was not so much work for him!”

Initially, the Keller father-and-son duo thought of teaching Scratch, a high-level education tool to teach the building blocks of coding to children. But during a trip up to Tahoe, Keller watched a video of a man utilizing AI technology to code an app.

“I thought, ‘I want to try this,’” Keller said. “In the description, it said he was using ChatGPT. I found it and I signed up, and it looked really interesting. I used it to write stories as well as code and thought it would be fun to teach people about it and learn new things.”

“When I learned Kaz was doing these ChatGPT workshops, I felt really happy for him because he’s doing things he really enjoys,” Comins said. “As long as he’s enjoying it, he will perform above and beyond what we expect of a child of his age. We see this time and again: If a child’s interest is really ignited by something, they will take that project above and beyond what we thought possible.”

Currently, the Kellers estimate they have taught a total of 200 people within just one month of opening the ChatGTP workshop. Future plans include training other children to teach workshops of their own.

“It’s kind of crazy—I didn’t expect to be in a newspaper,” Keller said. “Some of my friends thought it was a scam, but now they are asking to do the workshops, too! That’s why we have started workshops for students who want to teach themselves.”

AI aside, Keller plans to pursue a career in game design and hardware engineering. He also expresses interest in building a hologram projector.

“I think when I grow up I want to … design tech and make things that support it,” he concluded.

The dreams, aspirations and skills of the current generation of children may seem vastly different from those of a decade or half a century ago—but their childlike wonder and astounding ability to learn and retain new information remains fully intact. Though the tools are rapidly developing and changing, children as a whole remain ever-curious and excitable.

“The common factor all the children [at TinkerTech] have is they want to share the skills they’ve learned,” Comins said. “These children, like Kaz, are so excited about what they’re learning that they want to share it, so they go home and share it with their parents.”

If there is one lesson to be learned from Keller, from TinkerTech and from AI itself, it’s this: Knowledge shared is vastly more powerful than knowledge withheld. From the invention of stone tools to the creation of the printing press, from poultices to penicillin, all the way to the smallpox vaccine, and from the ARPANET—the very first version of the internet created in 1969—to the modern smartphone … technological advancements have and will always be a part of the human experience.

“The pandemic accelerated all this computer learning in children, and so what we’re trying to do is tell them how much fun they can have being creative with their computer, like building your own AI, which we have a class on,” Comins said. “We have seven-year-olds coding.”

“Children are curious and like to know how things work,” Comins said. “Technology can open up new avenues for learning, education and creative expression … of course, screen time needs to be balanced. It’s important to play outside, do sports and enjoy nature with friends—all the wonderful things that life in the Bay Area has to offer!”

Programs and people such as TinkerTech, Comins, her instructors and the Kellers are all doing their part to spread education in the face of new and possibly intimidating technology, setting the stage for generations to come to achieve advancements beyond anything currently imaginable.

To learn more about TinkerTech’s local STEAM education opportunities for children, visit tinkertechcamps.com, call 415.290.9964 or send an email to [email protected]. Visit eventbrite.com/o/sam-keller-father-amp-kaz-keller-son-63950752463 to sign up for Keller’s virtual or in-person ChatGPT workshop.

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