An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Intelligent toys and conversational agents are present in children’s homes, with more than 47.5 million adults already using smart assistants (such as Amazon’s Alexa) in the US alone. This raises questions as to the impact of AI on children’s behavior. During my time in the Personal Robots group at the MIT Media Lab, the focus of my research was to better understand this generation of children growing up with AI so as to protect and encourage positive development. I created Cognimates as an open source platform for AI literacy for children 7–14 years old. While schools and parents are starting to recognize coding as one of the required literacies for children, I believe it’s important to also introduce young people to the concepts of AI and machine learning through hands-on projects so they can make more informed and critical use of these technologies.

I believe it’s important to also introduce young people to the concepts of AI and machine learning through hands-on projects so they can make more informed and critical use of these technologies.
Druga (left) working with a young collaborator on her Cognimates platform. 

The Cognimates platform aims to achieve that by allowing children to program and customize embodied intelligent devices, such as Alexa and the smart robot Cozmo. Children can also use the platform to train their own AI models, learn how to build a game that gets better at playing Rock Paper Scissors with them over time, or create an installation where an entire room reacts to the way they describe their dreams. Cognimates builds on multiple parts (including the visual programming language) of the Scratch open-source platform, created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. The main goal of the Cognimates platform is to extend coding to AI education and literacy.

Like many Media Lab students my path has been far from linear, but the unifying thread has always been my love for learning driven by a profound curiosity.
Stefania Druga SM '18

Like many Media Lab students my path has been far from linear, but the unifying thread has always been my love for learning driven by a profound curiosity. I was born in Maneciu-Ungureni, a small town in Transylvania, Romania. My mom is a teacher and my dad is an electrical engineer. Growing up I got to discover and share their passions.

Together with my dad, I learned how to design and build anything, from the furniture in my room to stuff we repurposed from old car parts we bought at fairs. With my mom, I discovered how much a good teacher could touch the lives of her students. I got to see how my mom was the soul of the community in the small village where she was teaching. She would not only help students with their academic problems, but also listen to their personal struggles and assist them and their families at a moment’s notice. From an early age, I understood how much positive impact good teachers can have in their communities, and why it is important to connect and work with people at a personal level.

Excerpted from “Kids Teach AI a Little Humanity with Cognimates,” published in the MIT Media Lab's Medium channel on October 21, 2018. Read the full article

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