Kathy Gibson reports from Gitex – Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming a reality in business and society, but we should be doing more to ensure whole sections of the planet’s population are not left behind or marginalised as it becomes mainstream.

Maya Bridgman, a 17-year-old student studying in the UAE and founder of the Dubai AI Society, is on a mission to eradicate the digital divide and democratise AI education.

She believes our current model will simply deepen the digital divide and perpetuate unconscious bias – which feeds back into the original problem to create a vicious circle.

“AI is become more present in our daily and personal lives,” Bridgman says. “The current generation of youth will be the first to grow up alongside AI: the first generation that will learn with AI teachers and have AI solutions integrated throughout their professional careers.

“They won’t know a life without AI.”

But is the current system preparing our young people for a future where technology is so ingrained?

“What will happen if we don’t engage the youth?” Bridgman asks. “I believe we must be asking the hard questions now, because the current education system is simply unable to provide learners with the computational skills they will require.

“What will happen is that disadvantaged youth will become more disadvantaged. Some jobs and professional are already been made redundant, and this is happening faster than we had imagined.

“Yes, AI will create new jobs. But, while the technology is advanced at an exponential pace, the education systems cannot keep up. And students from poor socio-economic background are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to education, and more at risk of not being able to access the available jobs.

“These education inequities are widening the digital divide.”

But the problem goes deeper, Bridgman says. “What this will result in is a singular demographic of AI professionals, lacking in diversity. This will lead to particular mindset that will unconsciously influence predictions and trends identified by AI algorithms which are used to influence decisions.

“This algorithmic bias will unconsciously privilege on group over others.”

This circle poses a massive challenge for the future, Bridgman believes. “We are already seeing the results of unconscious bias in recruitment and criminal justice, and it has massive implications beyond those.”

She brings her argument back to education and how the unconscious bias in AI-influenced decisions will feed back into who receives AI education, enters the AI industries and continues to influence biases.

“That’s why we have to ask these questions now,” she stresses. “The solution to gender and racial parity lies in reaching more students and teaching them from a younger age – not when they enter university but as pre-teens.”

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Ministry of AI has been set up, in part to address these issues, and Bridgman works closely with the department.

“But there is still a lot more that needs to be done,” she says. “Education and industry cannot be seen as separate: they are symbiotic and influence one another.

“We have a responsibility as technology leaders to scale education across borders, to ensure every student has access to equitable and foundational digital skills.”