Real-World Learning with Robots
Posted 02/14/2017 03:55PM

Grade 4 students explored the fascinating world of artificial intelligence (AI) on February 10 in an educational demonstration featuring seven robots. The robots visited the International School of Beijing (ISB) on behalf of three local companies: Beijing Interjoy Technology, Beijing Evolver Robotic Company, and CloudMinds.

Among the autonomous androids was Pepper, a humanoid robot capable of reading people's emotions; XIaopang (Little Fatty), an air-purifying robot that can respond to questions; and a robotic rabbit that can identify users based on facial characteristics.

Students enjoyed interacting with robots, taking turns to ask questions, shake hands, and even dance with their new friends.

Dr. June Feng, chief scientist at China Mobile, spoke to students ahead of the demonstrations. She noted that creativity and innovation are just as important in robotics as more conventional skills, such as math and computer programming.

"The new technologies of AI are making robots smarter than ever. Their learning capabilities are greatly improving year by year. In the past, children grew faster than the world. Now, technology is growing faster than our children," she said.

Dr. Feng has led research and development on AI and big data at China Mobile since September 2013. Previously, she was principal researcher at AT&T Labs Research for more than a decade.

With more than 30 US and international patents to her credit, Dr. Feng has authored more than 50 publications covering speech recognition, data mining, and many other topics.

"When our children grow up, they will live alongside robots. It's great for them to be exposed to robotics from a young age," she said.

There are many opportunities for students to explore their passion for robotics at ISB, from kindergarten robot battles to the high school Robotics Club.

Asked what she enjoys most about her work, Dr. Feng pinpointed its collaboration and global-mindedness.

"Working each day in AI, everything is new. You feel you can change the world in a positive way. Contributing to a better, smarter world is great, especially when you can apply problem solving and math," she said.

Not long ago, robots were figments of sci-fi fantasies. Now, they play an ever-growing role in daily life of the 21st century.

But will they ever replace teachers? The possibilities are limitless, said Dr. Feng.

"Even today they are being used as teaching assistants. They are not a thing of the future, they are an exciting current reality," she said.

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