As a parent you want your kids to have every advantage. As a Nerdy Dad that means ensuring your kids are familiar with new technologies. While gadgets are fun to play with and at least easy to understand at a high level (I push a button, something happens, etc.) artificial intelligence is more abstract. Explaining artificial intelligence to your kids doesn’t have to be difficult. With this quick guide you will sound like you know what you’re talking about. For those of you playing part-time teacher this fall with virtual classes, this could be a fun topic for your tech lessons.

Explaining Artificial Intelligence to Your Kids

Even without know it many children are exposed to AI and machine learning (ML) at an early age. If your youngster has every played Pokemon GO then they have encountered a mix of tech, including AI/ML. It can be tough to discuss these technologies with kids if you aren’t even sure what they are yourself. Not to fear, the Nerdy Dads are here!

The first step in explaining AI to your children is first understanding what it is and is not yourself. That second part, what AI is not, is a big challenge as using “AI” is now a hit among marketers. For a basic approach remember that AI is a computer doing some task that is normal for human intelligence.

Historically computers have done what a programmer tells them to do. Request a name. Save to a database. Return an ID associated with the name. The steps aren’t exciting and, when broken down, can be pretty basic.

Today developers are creating machines with AI that can learn and make their own decisions. This might seem basic, but the technology used in AI has been in development for a number of years. Still we aren’t close to the AI we see in movies with robots and people interacting with ease.

Introducing AI to Your Kids

So let’s get to the fun part of explaining artificial intelligence to your kids. My favorite strategy when explaining a complex topic is to make it relatable. Use examples from everyday life that your kids will understand. For me that is training a puppy. It’s something many people have done and some have even done it well!

With a new puppy you likely want to teach them a few commands. Training a puppy and training an AI are very similar. Both have no knowledge of what you want as you begin. You must be very clear in your instructions and reinforce the behavior you want. You also get tons of mistakes. The puppy still has an accident or sits when he should fetch. The AI states a ball as not a ball or produces some string of text that makes no sense.

The experience of raising a puppy is something a child can relate to. It gives them a starting point for understanding AI.

Another method is to encourage your kids to ask “why”, “what”, and “how” and then discover the answers. Let’s break this down.

  1. Why do we even need AI? It’s tough to imagine needing something we don’t currently use. Turn the question around and ask “why do we need smartphones, computers, cars” or something else your kid enjoys. Move the conversation forward by asking why we wanted smartphones to begin with.
  2. What is AI? To understand artificial intelligence we must understand human intelligence. What is it? These questions might have tough answers, especially for younger children. However, that is part of the goal. AI isn’t an easy concept to wrap your head around if you want to go in-depth. These tough questions help children learn to question things around them. Even if they never work in tech having an inquisitive mind will be helpful in life.
  3. How is something new imagined and built if it never existed before? This is a very fun question! How we take something that doesn’t exist and give it form is a beautiful process. Give your children the permission to explore this question. While not very AI-esque, Playdough can be a great tool here. Get some colored dough out and ask your kids to build something that doesn’t exist. It can be anything crazy. Odds are it will be crazy, but that’s the point. Get those little brains turning as your child tries to create something that only they can see.

AI Games

When in doubt, turn to games! Folks smarter than us have developed some games that help kids learn about AI. For example, Machine Learning for Kids works with Scratch. The tutorial is great for parents and kids. Worksheets are provided and you can work on projects, such as image recognition, in a fun and not overly technical manner. It will honestly be fun for kids as well as adults!

With any technology enjoying it’s moment of fame it’s tough to separate the truth from exaggeration. What many people do agree on, however, is that AI is here to stay and it will only impact life more in the future. Even people who don’t pursue a career in tech will need to learn how to work with AI. It’s important that the younger generation learn at an early age so when it comes time to enter the workforce or start building their own company they aren’t behind.


One part gaming enthusiast, one part Python developer and 100% dad. I write about technology, gadgets, and gaming from a dad's perspective. I enjoy sharing all things tech-related with my kids. I hope you enjoy my musings!

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