Teach AI in schools. Win the tech race in 2030.

Member of the Hellenic Parliament, former President of the Youth of the European People’s Party

Ten years ago everyone was talking about the future referring to 2020 as a really special year. Every nation, every business, every sports team was making big plans. Well, COVID ruined most of them, except one. The COVID crisis accelerated technological advancements almost everywhere in the world. Zoom calls, Amazon orders, online project planners, gaming, Netflix and so many quarantine apps skyrocketed this year.

However the tech king that has really expanded horizontally this year is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Billions of people have experimented with face filters on a mobile app. Trillions of online purchases have been made because of personalized suggestions. And surely while 2020 has not been the best year for travelling, all those who went through international airports for some reason might have noticed automatic passport verification.

Chances are that you fall at least in one of those categories and if so you have been exposed to the power of AI which undoubtedly became a big part of our lives in 2020 without making too much noise. From face recognition to self-driving cars, AI is growing exponentially and we need to get ready for what is coming.

Kids entering first grade at elementary schools this year, will be joining the workforce in the decade of 2030. If today we consider AI to be part of the successful operations of a company or a government, we can only imagine that ten years from today it will be absolutely necessary. It will be omnipresent and its impact will be taken for granted. All industries, including transport, logistics, medicine, construction, defense, architecture, customer service and even tax authorities will be utilizing AI. We have a duty to prepare the next generation for what is to come.

That is the reason I submitted a proposal to the Greek Parliament for AI to be taught in schools. Obviously, no one is expecting for 1st graders to become Python developers, but if they learn from a young age how to think algorithmically, understand the purposes of AI and realise what this technology can achieve, then they will be able to go on and accomplish goals that are hard to even conceive today.

Concretely, basic methods and patterns can be taught in the early stages of elementary school, followed by establishing a good base in intuitive programming languages towards the end of elementary. Stepping on these building blocks, Machine Learning can be progressively taught as a lesson that combines mathematics and computer science, two subjects that already exist in schools. Gamifying this subject with competitions such as Robotics will also prove beneficial. Note that these steps create a hazy path that could be followed and mainly aim to initiate the conversation of AI training in schools. I expect that more bulletproof plans will be created by expert committees when that time comes.

A great experiment is going on in Scandinavia right now. Finland has foreseen the potential impact of AI and created a course for efficient and effective AI training for all, with an ultimate objective of at least 1% of the population getting trained. Similarly, Sweden spends over half a billion € on AI research programs such as W.A.S.P and heavily invests in its universities. Already in 2018 French President Macron announced the nation’s long term AI strategy and while also mentioning that the country will be investing north of 1.5billion € to boost France’s AI capabilities. These are just some of the examples that illustrate that Europe is taking this issue seriously.

All that said, no investment will matter if students across Europe today will not become part of the AI revolution. For kids with an inclination towards STEM subjects, highlighting to them the power of AI from an early age will only benefit them as they will have a longer time to cultivate a good understanding in the field. For all other students, that will eventually focus on other professions they will also likely end up utilizing the power of AI, so learning about it from a young age will ultimately give them skills and knowledge so as to become competitive and rise to the challenges of the 2030 decade.

Europe can become a leader in AI, 10 years from now – so long that it starts creating the future leaders of the subject today, in schools. It follows that investing in this proposal will lead to further advancement of universities, state funded research programs and easier talent discovery by european companies. If we want more “unicorns” in Europe, we need bright young people that will have the vision and the power to make european companies, global tech winners.

Some people say access to capital is the key to win the tech race. I think the most valuable asset is human capital. Technology is built by humans. And if humans are intelligent enough to build artificially intelligent machines that could outsmart them, we owe it to our future to educate our kids and make them smarter than we are.