Artificial Intelligence Summer Camp with AI4ALL Is a Success

September 12, 2019

This August, the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research (BAIR) group, in partnership with the youth-serving organization AI4ALL, welcomed a team of high school students for five days of learning, exploration, and first-hand experience with artificial intelligence (AI). AI4ALL works with students who are typically underrepresented in AI to provide mentorship and educational opportunities.

Twenty-eight participants from around the Bay Area attended, which marked the third year of this program at UC Berkeley and the first year that the Hall was involved as a partner. Students traveled from as far away as East Palo Alto and as near as Richmond to attend.

Over the course of the five days, AI4ALL students worked with the latest AI technology to learn fundamentals and build their culminating projects. The first half of the program featured lectures and hands-on work that delved into the basics of the discipline, such as introduction to AI, programming in the Python language, and other lessons. The students worked hard to master these skills before tackling their culminating projects, which addressed some of society’s biggest challenges: building safe and reliable self-driving cars, transforming recycling technology, and supporting disaster relief.

Highlights of the five-day program included two lab tours, guest lectures from three UC Berkeley professors—Anca Dragan, Ken Goldberg, and Amir Gholani—and final keynote remarks from Damion Heredia of Google Cloud. Midway through the program, a visit to Stitch Fix in San Francisco, featuring data scientists and engineers, allowed students to learn more about how AI is changing e-commerce and to ask questions about relevant career paths and resources. Many BAIR/UC Berkeley-affiliated students contributed to the program, either spending time tutoring on fundamentals or acting as project mentors.

Students who worked on transforming recycling for their culminating project had to ensure that networks and robots could correctly sort, identify, and grasp recyclable items. They performed experiments to determine how systems use AI to identify visual information and perform spatial tasks. The goal of the experiments was to help a robot grab specific, different-size bottles or cans. As the students learned about the systems’ strengths and limitations, they gained insight into how AI might be used both now and in the future. They even practiced grabbing with hand-held grippers, to mimic the limitations of robots’ limited ability to physically touch. In an opportunity to practice public speaking skills, students shared the results of their culminating projects in a presentation on the final day of the program, followed by a well-deserved celebration.

Overall, the program was very well-received and was judged successful. Students who left feedback via a post-evaluation survey emphasized the sense of community that they gained from the summer camp. And many praised AI4ALL at Berkeley for being inclusive, fun, and diverse.

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