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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Granville T. Woods students working on real AI solutions for real Memphis organizations

If you’re wondering what impact artificial intelligence will have on education in general, and more specifically, students in the Memphis Shelby County School District, you need to flip the question on its head.

The correct question: What impacts are MSCS students having on AI?

Last autumn at Granville T. Woods Innovation Academy, middle school students began actively studying the technology, learning about LLMs (large language models), and developing applications — as in chatbots. 

And these aren’t “Aw, that’s cute” chatbots. We’re talking about chatbots that will actually be deployed by local organizations like the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, The Works, and Greater Imani Church.

The unveiling of the chatbots at the school was a major event, with Memphis Mayor Paul Young, school board members, and business leaders in attendance. The students presented their projects and received praise for their ingenuity and creativity.

Kortney Anthony and Xzavier Hampton, both 13, demonstrate their AI chatbot aimed at helping people access information about the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith/Tri-State Defender)

“I really liked it,” said Xzavier Hampton, 13, one of the students who helped develop the chatbot for the Greater Memphis Chamber. “And that’s why I’m here now.”

Hampton and his classmates were introduced to AI through Stemi, a Croatian education technology company that partnered with Granville T. Woods to develop an AI curriculum. The program was the brainchild of Reggie Manning and Luka Perković, who founded Vista Data in 2023 to revolutionize learning with AI-driven data solutions. 

Manning is the Chief Technology Officer. According to him, the speed at which artificial intelligence has evolved has posed a challenge for many entities in Memphis, businesses and schools, to incorporate AI into their day-to-day activities. He wanted to find a way to bring this technology into the schools and integrate it into the curriculum, especially within schools that may not otherwise have access to it.

Well, it sure worked on Tiana Carr. She started the school year clueless about artificial intelligence. At this event she unveiled her chatbot to provide information about Memphis in May. 

Tiana Carr, pictured here with classmate and partner in development Mariana Fleming. The duo are developing a chatbot that will help people access info about Memphis in May. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith/Tri-State Defender)

“I didn’t know I would actually be into this — like can we do it every day?” smiled Carr, 13. “So, of course, the more you (work with) it, it makes you want to do it even more.”

Marin Troselj, the CEO of Stemi, said that he was impressed by the students’ progress.

“They went from zero to hero in six months,” Troselj said. “And it was really amazing.”

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who moderated a panel discussion at the event, said that AI is the future of education.

“Our young folks will be looking back years from now and talking about, ‘Why would we… What, what were they thinking?’ They won’t be able to figure out why we didn’t see all of the possibilities that AI will lead to,” Hardaway said.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson said that AI is a “child that’s growing on steroids” and that Memphis needs to be at the forefront of this change.

“What’s happening here at Granville T. Woods, that’s putting us on the forefront, on the front end of this,” Parkinson said.

Mayor Paul Young said that he was excited about the potential of AI to improve the lives of Memphians. 

“Our infrastructure should be structured for the future. And these young people are going to be the ones that take us there,” Young said. “And it’s because of initiatives like this that we’re going to be able to do it.” 

The event also featured remarks from Althea Green, chair of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board.

“When you look at an initiative and a tool like AI, something that will say to a teacher, ‘Hey, Johnny can’t add 2 plus 3, and so we can’t move forward to 2 digits of addition,’ it will identify the problem, give a student an opportunity to have additional reinforcement,” Green said. 

“When you look at a teacher shortage, when you look at not having a teacher assistant in a room for every child, AI is that teacher assistant,” Green continued. “AI is that additional help that our students will need.”

The chatbot demonstration brought together an impressive group of leaders from K-12 education, the University of Memphis, the nonprofit sector, business, faith and government. The event culminates nearly a year of collaboration with Stemi, a Croatian tech firm aimed at getting AI into educational systems. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith/Tri-State Defender)

For the students, there was also a classic teachable moment of “you never know who’s listening.” Bobby Garrett, Dean of the Fogelman School of Business at the University of Memphis, was on hand and stood to make a bold offer.

“In the business school, I have to admit, I don’t have the knowledge that y’all have on the technology itself,” Garrett said. “But what we know how to do . . . is commercialize the technology. 

“So, if you get that foundational STEM education in knowing how to program, knowing how to make a chatbot,” he continued, “then you can bring us that idea, and with that idea, we can show you how to make money with it, how to start a business.”

Garrett told the students that he was impressed by their work and encouraged them to continue to be fearless.

“Be fearless, ask for help when you need it, and you will find that this community is very willing and very eager to give you the support you need,” Garrett said.

Hampton intends to follow up on that offer. 

“That’s a big connection. That’s a very big connection,” said Hampton, the young chatbot engineer. “I would never have thought I would meet, be here with the Mayor or the Dean at the University of Memphis. I’m definitely going to call.”

Note: This story was reported by Lee Eric Smith and written with the help of AI. (No pun intended. Also, no, seriously).

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