Teaching Girls A.I. On 125th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage In New Zealand

suffrage 125 logo mowUpdate: My colleague Felipe Ayora has pointed out another data mining tool created in New Zealand at the University of Waikato called Weka that is free and has associated lessons teaching students the fundamentals of AI in data.

For a small country at the bottom of the world, New Zealand has been a world leader and a world beater in many different areas. This week, we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of 19th September 1893 when the Electoral Act 1893 was passed, giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote.  As a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections. (Source: Ministry for Culture and Heritage)

That’s a big deal and the New Zealand curriculum has a similarly far-sighted vision by promoting STEM, with changes to the Digital Technologies Curriculum by including two new strands:

  • Computational Thinking
  • Designing and Developing Digital Outcomes

The Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins said in 2018:

The digital curriculum is about teaching children how to design their own digital solutions and become creators of, not just users of, digital technologies, to prepare them for the modern workforce.

The reality, however, is that many young women do not foresee a future career in these areas. Each March, Microsoft celebrates women in tech with the #MakeWhatsNext initiative which this year focused on inspiring young women to be the inventors of future technologies:

kate sheppard

Kate Sheppard (1848-1934) Source

In previous years, Microsoft has called out the need to change the current trend that sees only 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees (based off data from the USA).

In the spirit of Kate Sheppard, the most prominent leader of the Suffragette movement in New Zealand, it’s time we ensured that all women are equipped with the necessary skills and inspired to explore a career that will almost invariably involve technology in some capacity.

In January 2018 LinkedIn published a blog post confirming that technology is here to stay in their list of skills required for the most in demand jobs:

Technology is here to stay. Year-over-year technology jobs and skills have dominated these lists, and that’s a trend that’s likely here to stay. All jobs are likely going to require some technical skills in the future, so make sure to brush up on the basics.

When you look at the top 10 skills identified by LinkedIn you can see the strong prevalence of technology:

  1. Cloud and Distributed Computing
  2. Statistical Analysis and Data Mining
  3. Middleware and Integration Software
  4. Web Architecture and Development Framework
  5. User Interface Design
  6. Software Revision Control Systems
  7. Data Presentation
  8. SEO/SEM Marketing
  9. Mobile Development
  10. Network and Information Security

This is hardly surprising when you consider the biggest companies by market capitalization are now completely dominated by technology:

So – it’s one thing to know of the skills required, it’s an entirely different proposition to teach these in an interesting and engaging manner. What is the solution?

Alice Envisions The Future:

Today I had two serendipitous events occur:

  1. I watched Jourdan Templeton from the Aware Group deliver a presentation highlighting the power of Azure Cognitive Services, demonstrating how it can make sense of unstructured data through the use of computer vision, sentiment analysis and PowerBI – it was truly impressive.
  2. I learnt of the work my colleague Oliver Zofic from Slovenia had completed recently with his Alice Envisions the Future project.

For this project, Oliver created seven challenges aimed at encouraging young women to explore the power of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and Machine Learning (M.L) through the use of Office365 and a range of powerful cloud technologies from Microsoft. These seven challenges are:

  1. Office365: Create a collaboration hub using Microsoft Teams for the groups of girls to share resources through the use of OneNote, Planner and FlipGrid.
  2. Custom Vision Service: through the use of www.customvision.ai create an image classification tool to distinguish images of cats and dogs – an easy introduction into the world of computer vision.
  3. Azure Machine Learning: using the topic of breast cancer, students create and train a ML model to make a two class prediction model using Azure Machine Learning Studio
  4. Build a Bot: Using Microsoft QnA Maker students build and deploy a bot that takes a natural language query and runs it through a bank of FAQ on breast cancer.
  5. Cognitive Services – Facial Recognition: Using Azure’s powerful Cognitive Services, students build an app that can detect faces and emotion.
  6. Internet of Things & Raspberry Pi: IoT is almost as big of a buzz word as AI and ML and in this challenge students use the online Raspberry Pi simulator to connect to the Azure IoT Hub to understand how devices at the edge can stream data to the cloud
  7. Create a Vlog: A fun way to finish the day, the girls are required to create a video record of their learning and post it to FlipGrid (recently acquired by Microsoft and integrated directly into Microsoft Teams).

Get Started & Give It A Go:

The keys to the ignition to get started learning A.I. are:

  1. Office365 username / password – this is a requirement to log into most of the cloud services listed above (there is no cost for most of these, or a temporary / limited access can be obtained).
  2. Download the seven challenges from here. (please note – in Challenge Three there is a reference to downloading the breast cancer data from the University of Wisconsin Hospitals. This link is no longer valid, however the data is included in the link above as part of the download called breast-cancer-wisconsin.data).

For a while I’ve been trying to get my oldest daughter (14yrs) interested in coding and data related fields but to date, she has shown limited interest. Today, I introduced her to Challenges #2 and #3 and left her to it – she loved it. When asked for some feedback she shared:

I found it really interesting, the tools have a good user interface – I don’t know much about coding but the instructions were for the most part easy to follow and the tools were cool. Overall, I had fun and felt like I’d done something worthwhile.

I also created the image detection tool using CustomVision.ai and it didn’t take me long to build out a working model:


The images I used to train my model, accurately tagging dogs and cats respectively


Running a test against my model – identified this new picture with 99.9% probability as being a dog!

My Point of View:

Without doubt, many of the most sought after skills in the workforce are going to include those around data, analysis, modelling, interpretation and all combined towards solving some of the biggest problems in the world today. Just this week I learnt of a young kiwi woman working on a solution that will disperse fog at airports, a problem of very real significant when you consider fog costs airlines over $1.8M and impacts over 135,000 travelers per hour

Last week at The New Paradigm, an education event co-hosted by HP and Microsoft at which I presented, I listened to Elise Beavis talk about her role as a performance engineer at Emirates Team New Zealand. Elise spoke candidly about her wish that she had been introduced to coding at high school, rather than waiting until university to learn the fundamentals. From the speakers page:

Having sailed since age 9, Elise saw studying engineering as a pathway to combine her love of sailing with her interest in maths and physics. She was accepted into the accelerated pathway and graduated with first class honours. The week after finishing her final engineering science exam, Elise started working at Emirates Team New Zealand. During the 35th America’s Cup, as the youngest full time employee, she worked in a number of areas including aerodynamics, designing 3D printed components, running VPP’s and modelling how the boat would fit in the plane to be flown up to Bermuda. Since winning the cup, Elise has been involved with developing the new class of boat and writing the AC75 class rule. She is now working on the design of ETNZ’s first AC75.

The sooner we can introduce students to technology like those in the seven challenges from Oliver, the better equipped they will be to succeed in the rapidly advancing world they will be entering on leaving school.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...