Technocamps AI workshop

I’ve been working on the Technocamps project for the last year, and one of the things I’ve been heavily involved with is a workshop on AI, loosely based around Alan Turing’s 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (also known as The Turing Test Paper). You can find that paper online in loads of places, e.g. In it, he considers the question “Can computers think?”. The AI workshop helps schoolkids to consider the same question. It’s the Alan Turing Centenary year which is a major motivation for taking on this topic, but I suspect I’d have put together a workshop on this anyway as it’s a question that has fascinated me ever since I read Neuromancer, aged 13, and it’s a question that’s motivated a lot of my study.

The workshop has a range of activities, some involving moving around, some involving pen and paper, others involving computers, and the idea is to question what it means to think, what it means to be a computer, and the difference between natural and artificial intelligence. We’ve run the workshop with loads of kids now – all of year 9 in several local schools, mixed aged groups, and local college kids, so it’s tried and tested. Components include…

  • The telephone texting Turing test (introducing the idea of the Turing test through text messages, guessing whether we’re speaking to a schoolkid or an adult)
  • An intelligence ordering game, where each kid gets a different thing to be (from a range of natural and artificial intelligences – cat, robot, washing machine, Sherlock Holmes) and they have to get into order of intelligence. This gets them thinking about what intelligence is. Once they’re in order, you can investigate different properties of intelligence by asking the kids to put their hands up if they can speak, be creative, form relationships, have emotions, and so on.
  • An ongoing vote, in which we ask students if they think computers can be intelligent; throughout the day you see the totals change as they learn more and discuss more about what intelligence is and what AI could be. Here’s a sample of the vote results from one of the workshops –
  • A scientific experiment where students write down questions for a Turing test, and then try these questions on a couple of chatbots
  • Some bespoke software called Turi – written by Mathew Keegan (once my project student, now founder of Jolly Good Websites); this is not quite online yet but will be soon, and lets students write their own chatbots

You can get hold of the module materials here: There are two versions – a one-hour one (missing the ordering game and the Turi stuff) and a full-day workshop. The zip file also contains leader notes (running order, kit list, tips and tricks); a list of URLS for videos that can be put in to break it up a bit; the slides for the “Intelligence ordering game”, a worksheet for the science experiment, and a take-home handout. If you want to use it – go ahead! I’d like to know if you do, and what you think of it, but now I’m done it’s there to be used.

Credits: Reena Pau for helping with the initial first draft; Mathew Keegan software and design; Roger Boyle for advice and feedback; all the kids and teachers who’ve given us feedback.

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