Potsdam University of Applied Sciences lets children develop an AI toy

Potsdam. Three beautiful wooden dice. One has four buttons on one side and an opening on the other, the other has a round illuminated area, and the third has different connectors. There are also plastic figures, a few cables and small components, such as a lamp or a mini fan. All of them form “Any Cubes”, a new type of toy that aims to make artificial intelligence learnable.

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Alexander Scheidt, a philosopher and research fellow in childhood education and training at Potsdam University of Applied Sciences (FHP), holds a small unicorn in front of the opening of the first cube. Then he presses the button next to it, which is a pink sticker. Now the other cube has a pink light on. Now Scheidt holds a small seal figure in front of the opening and presses the button with the blue sticker. The surface of the second cube suddenly lights up in blue.

The cube learns to distinguish objects

The small opening of the first cube is a camera. The cube photographs the objects held in front of it. By pressing the various buttons, Scheidt has programmed “Any-Cubes”, which are connected via WLAN, to distinguish between the unicorn and the seal. From now on, every time you hold the unicorn in front of the opening, the pink light will shine, if you hold the seal in front of it, the blue light will shine. A small artificial intelligence has been created that can recognize a unicorn from a seal.

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The game can be expanded with the third dice. Electrically powered objects can be connected to these. Ignition is programmed by pressing a button and taking a picture. How to learn about smart device management. But one can not buy “Any Cubes”, which won the delina award for future-oriented education projects anywhere. Alexander Scheidt developed it by hand at FHP together with interface designer Tim Pulver, education student Meliani Meliani and product design student Lukas Schmidt-Wiegand. The prototypes are still being experimented with.

“Any Cubes” are educational toys and instruments for psychological research in one, Scheidt explains. As a learning set, they make the simple principles of artificial intelligence (AI) clear. As a research tool, they reveal thought processes in children and adults. One question could be what kids and adults find out by playing with “Any Cubes” and the accessories themselves. Can you see the connection between pressing the button and certain light teeth? Do they ever understand that they can teach the system to recognize objects? Can they even tinker with certain useful applications with the third cube? How much explanation do they need to be able to do anything with the system at all?

How does causal thinking work?

Scheidt cites American psychologist Alison Gopnik as an important proposition. The professor at the University of California at Berkeley deals with causal thinking. How do children and adults form theories about contexts in the world? “I have always been very interested in children’s understanding of causality,” Scheidt says. You also need an understanding of causation to uncover the function of “Any Cubes”.

It’s amazing what kids actually do with the dice. Twelve-year-olds, for example, programmed the cubes to distinguish between different distances by being photographed at different distances from the cubes. Others made a feed system for seals with the connector cube. Only when the seal figure was brought in front of the camera did an electric funnel connected to the cube open and drop a piece of “food”.

About thirty children of different ages have already become acquainted with the dice. “We developed the project with a very small budget,” says Scheidt. Now the group’s dream would be to bring “Any Cubes” to any application. It does not have to be the new commercial experimental kit “My Super Cubes” – a suitcase set for schools and educational institutions would also be great.

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“AI as a technology has become a hyper topic,” says Scheidt. “Systems like this are becoming more and more common in everyday life.” These range from in-vehicle assistance systems to Alexa voice recognition and smart homes. It is all the more important to make them literally understandable to children with aids like the cubes.

Artificial intelligence in the classroom

Basically, from Scheidt’s point of view, there is nothing wrong with AI in the classroom or children’s room, nor with video games. A popular online game like Minecraft can also be educationally valuable, especially since you can use it to design your own virtual worlds and learn something about construction principles.

“For AI in the children’s room, the following should apply: Data obtained may only be processed locally and not sent to the Internet,” Scheidt emphasizes. In addition, users should always have control over the models they created with an AI. “Kids need to learn the AI ​​something or be able to implement their own creative ideas with AIs.” That was exactly what he, Tim Pulver, Meliani Meliani and Lukas Schmidt-Wiegand were aware of when they developed “Any Cubes”.

No artificial intelligence will replace the teacher anyway. To do this, a system must be able to make judgments and think independently and even have its own will. It happens in science fiction movies, but not in reality. If you will, even your own dog is a better teacher than any robot. But as a pedagogical aid, whether alone or in a group, AI can be very useful, as the cubes would prove.

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