By Chris Gabriel

This week, in Mountain View California, over 5,000 very lucky attendees will experience the future.

They won’t be attending a science conference or an academic retreat, and if they have a signed version of the parental consent form, anybody from the age of 15-years old can hear from some of the smartest most innovative people on the planet, see technology in action that as the stuff of sci-fi 1970’s TV shows, and mix and mingle with peers who have one thing on their minds; changing the future through technology.

Google I/O is in my humble opinion the most important 3 days of the year on our planet to inspire our next generation of AI explorers.

It is more important and inspirational than any government conference could hope to imitate, and much to the annoyance of many politicians, when Google CEO Sundar Pichai made his keynote speech on Tuesday just gone, the audience know his vision will make a bigger difference to more lives around the world in the next 10 years than any national President could wish to deliver even with the biggest election landslide. Politicians have the power to make policy, Sundar Pichai has the power to change the world.

I have been lucky enough to witness the rise of a company that created the underpinnings of the Internet enabled world as we know it today; Cisco. With little public glory, Cisco has transformed the planet by building the intelligent plumbing that connected citizens, countries and continents together, and whilst most 15-year olds in the UK haven’t heard of Cisco, they benefit from their decades of vision and execution every day of their lives.

In Mountain View CA this week, Google was not just preaching on YouTube to 15-year olds, they were giving them the opportunity to participate in the future, no parents needed.

Once suitably inspired, and with minimal resources (an internet connection and a laptop) they can head back to their bedrooms and develop for their own personal ambition or for societies wider benefit. And I/O 2018 lets them sit alongside digital peers that might be fellow 15-year olds enthused by the possibility or 50-year olds who are seeing stuff today their first foray into Cobol two lifetimes ago would have seemed impossible.

Meanwhile, last month, the House of Lords AI Committee released their first report into the potential of Artificial Intelligence in the UK.

The report deals comprehensively with the risks of AI, the investments government needs to make in training and start-ups to further our national ambition, the need for ethical development of AI code, and in sections that refer to schools and education in computing skills, the emphasis whilst on better training for teachers in the ICT curriculum, all of which are fundamentally important.

However, the executive summary highlights only one critical aspect in relation to our 15-year old’s and recommends that children need to be ‘adequately prepared for working with, and using, AI. The ethical design and use of AI should become an integral part of the curriculum.’

Don’t get me wrong, the report is an excellent start, but in all of its 183 pages, it misses the one-word writ large across Mountain View California this week, and word that any 15-year-old in the world has the chance to experience in person or online – Inspiration!

The UK’s approach to AI going forward must include data regulation, ethical frameworks, and managing the power of tech firms who would abuse their position, but, the priority above all else must be to inspire our children with the potential of AI and what it offers to their lives, careers and futures.

AI cannot be a digital wild west, the issue of data privacy is one that impacts all of us in so many ways, but if I was a 15-year old thinking of career choices and watching I/O 2018 on my smart phone between lessons I might just be inspired to think I could solve some of the world’s biggest problems with AI, and become part of a global community that sits in shorts and whoops and cheers when Google Assistant books a hair appointment as naturally as a human being could, because at 15 I primarily only see positivity and opportunity to do great things through technology.
Regulation is key, but do we want to regulate away innovation and inspiration out of the minds of our 15-year olds by giving them a 3-hour lesson on ethical AI framework design, or do we want them to see how Google AI in their Android Phone or Google Assistant could change the lives of their grandparent’s loneliness or early onset Dementia?

We shouldn’t be blind to regulation or the risks of too much AI power being in too few hands, but I would rather have 5,000 inspired children across the UK trying to do great things with AI because school inspired them, than 5,000 kids who are versed in the ethical frameworks for AI development but bored rigid by being told what they shouldn’t do.

The UK needs a generation inspired with what they could do if they themselves ever got a golden ticket to Mountain View.