A Macon day camp introduces kids to the ethics of AI

Christabelle Kubuye has a conversation with an AI. She uses what sheÕs learned so far at camp to prompt it effectively.
Christabelle Kubuye has a conversation with an AI. She uses what sheÕs learned so far at camp to prompt it effectively.
Taleen Hanna/GPB

On a Monday in early June, veteran technology teacher Joe Finkelstein posed a tough question to a group of four middle school students, squished together on a couch.

“With the existing workforce, AI is going to take over so much of the customer service or tech support,” Finkelstein said. “So should we notuse AI just for the sake of giving more people jobs?”

The students began to think it through out loud, but they really had no clear answer. Just getting them to think it through achieved some of Finkelstein’s aim.

Artificial intelligence has worked its way into our everyday lives, whether we like it or not. Kids today may never know a time without AI, so how do you teach them to use it effectively and even ethically?

That question was at the heart of a day camp in June hosted at Mercer University in Macon, and spearheaded by Finkelstein.

The week began by learning how to prompt an AI effectively. A camp counselor, Ian Wiles, played the part of an AI. On his back was a bag with peanut butter and jelly inside. And so the campers’ job was to prompt the AI to make a peanut and jelly sandwich.

In their first attempt, they told it to “put peanut butter on the bread.”

The AI counselor merely put the unopened peanut butter container on the slice of bread. The camper’s simple command wasn’t detailed enough for a computer to understand.

Students in AI Camp react to teacher Joe Finkelstien prompting an AI on the projector. From left to right, campers from the week of June 10, 2024: Christabelle Kabuye, Bryson Brandon, Aiden Wright, and Lawson Surles.
(Taleen Hanna/GPB)

“We learned that we have to be specific when giving commands or prompts in order to get exactly what you need,” camper Lawson Surles said.

Inspired by this experience, Surles prompted a real AI to create a song — including lyrics, a beat and a melody about Ian acting as an AI making a sandwich.

It only took the AI one minute to write the song.

While students were having fun learning how to utilize AI to create, Joe Finkelstien also wanted them to imagine how AI could work for them, but not to help them cheat.

“We’ve talked about ethics a lot,” he said. “What does it mean — not only in your classroom, but also in the real world?”

Finkelstien wanted them to walk away knowing that they could “use AI as a resource and help them to take their thoughts and put them together.”

He made it a priority to talk about more serious topics like driverless vehicles and AI in surveillance, too.

These conversations led camper Christabelle Kabuye to ask a question. She spoke the question out loud as she typed it:  “Is AI used in the real world?”

She sought out an answer from the very thing she was trying to understand, AI. The engine she queried assured her, yes, AI already has lots of real-world applications in fields such as health care, finance and retail.

“I’m curious how AI is probably going to be used in the future because most likely it’s going to be used a lot more,” Kabuye said.

If she’s right, it will largely be her generation deciding where and how AI is used.

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