Students get a taste of AI at The Tech Interactive

When it comes to technology, it stands to follow that the youngest generations get it more quickly than the rest of us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to try to keep up with them.

That’s one of the reasons why the Tech Interactive in San Jose hosted an event Friday morning for National AI Literacy Day. Sure, there were more than 1,100 students crawling around the downtown learning center, but there were also teachers and administrators hearing from experts on panel discussions about why its important for communities to understand artificial intelligence and how it’s already impacting schools and communities.

“It’s really important for education to think about the skills students need to be successful and have access to AI,” Esmerelda Tovar, the computer science education manager at the Tech, said during a panel with discussion on the need for AI literacy.

A robotics exhibit is available for children during National AI Literacy Day at Tech Interactive in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
A robotics exhibit is available for children during National AI Literacy Day at Tech Interactive in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

In her welcoming remarks, Tech Interactive CEO Katrina Stevens shared some key points parents should keep in mind when it comes to AI and their kids: Explain what AI is and what it is not before using it with your kids; remember that it’s just a set of tools, not something to replace thinking for yourself; and remind them that not everything artificial intelligence creates is accurate.

In the Tech’s galleries, students, ranging from elementary school kids to high schoolers, got to see some of the fun potential applications of AI — including some that should wind up in future exhibit’s at the Tech — like the “Talk Box,” which produces images of colorful shapes based on what people tell it, and an AI robot artist that creates line sketches of people’s portraits from photos. There was a robot dog delighting kids on the gallery floor, too, but it was actually remote-controlled, not a potential “Terminator” pet.

Brandon Mead, of Tech Interactive, teaches children about robotics during National AI Literacy Day at Tech Interactive in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
Brandon Mead, of Tech Interactive, teaches children about robotics during National AI Literacy Day at Tech Interactive in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, April 19, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

While there were several AI-related activities going on around the country Friday, San Jose was just one of three cities hosting official National AI Literacy Day events, with the others being in New York City and Washington, D.C.  In a recorded video, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten said it was fitting that the event take place in San Jose, which last year established the Gov-AI coalition to create standards for AI in government.

“I appreciate the Tech Interactive for assuming a leadership role and providing a venue for the West Coast event,” Marten said. “As Silicon Valley continues to drive technological advancements, cities across the nation will look to your pioneering efforts for guidance.”

COMMUNITY LOSS: It would be hard to overstate the impact that Rick Holden had on San Jose, especially on its arts community, for the past few decades. Holden, 79, died suddenly from a heart attack at his Naglee Park home on April 10, but he’ll be remembered by so many people for years to come.

I got to know the longtime educator nearly 20 years ago when he was the director of Community Leadership San Jose, a Chamber of Commerce program that aimed to provide participants with a deeper understanding of the community, from government and education to nonprofits and the arts. He also started the San Jose Leadership Academy to provide San Jose Unified School District high school students with the same community-building tools.

But he did so much more, serving leadership roles on the boards of San Jose Jazz, City Lights Theatre Company and We Players, not to mention seven years on the San Jose Arts Commission, including three years as chair. Those were only a few of the causes supported by Holden and his wife, Sandra Moll, too.

His most recent passion was the Levitt Pavilion, a free concert stage proposed for St. James Park. Holden was a strong backer of the idea from the start and was the driving force for the creation of the Friends of Levitt Pavilion San Jose in 2016. I’d often see him manning a table at downtown festivals to spread the word about the effort, which is continuing and has resulted in several successful concert series on temporary stages the past two years. I wish he was going to be around for the spring series, starting May 26 and running consecutive Sundays through Father’s Day on June 16.

Plans for a public memorial are still in the works, but in the meantime, my tribute to Holden will be to get to as many Levitt Pavilion concerts as I can, patronize other San Jose arts groups and keep trying to bring people together to make this a better community. It’s what he did — and what he was still doing to the end.

THE PLACE FOR HOT JAZZ?: Another place I’d regularly see Rick Holden was San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest, and he probably would have gotten a kick out of the venue for the Summer Fest Kickoff Fundraiser on May 10: The San Jose Fire Museum. The former Fire Station No. 1 on Market Street is filled with artifacts and vehicles from San Jose’s firefighting history, and that evening also will be filled with music from the High School All Stars band and musical artist Chika Di, who performed at last year’s Summer Fest.

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