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New storybook introduces young children to complex AI concepts

Binary code, machine learning and data can be unwieldy concepts to grasp - even more so for young children.

But Artificial Intelligence (AI) Singapore aims to give them a sense of such concepts with a storybook released on Sunday (March 13). It is targeted at lower primary pupils.

This is the first time the research institute's literacy programme AI For Kids (AI4K) has extended to young children to help them understand technology and how to use it effectively and responsibly.

Sponsored by social media company Meta, 10,000 free copies of the illustrated Daisy and her AI Friends will be handed to low-income families and public libraries. It is not for sale.

The 30-page book centres on Daisy, a computer with legs, who is lost on her first day at school as she is able to speak only in binary code. Daisy meets other characters, who each teach her a new tech-related concept to help her to find her way.

The names of the seven main characters are a play on the acronym "AI", such as the camera-inspired Aishwarya, a computer vision app who can identify objects; Aiman the sensor who can scan for temperature changes; and their teacher, Miss Ai.

The characters are based on 10 winning designs chosen from a competition for primary school pupils that received more than 230 submissions.

Illustrator Tan Jia En, 21, took elements of these winning designs into the final appearances of the characters of the book, which was written by AI Singapore and does not have a credited author.

Elements of primary school pupil Alyssa Yong's sketch were adapted into the final design of the book's main character, including the eye-catching daisy worn on its head.

Alyssa, 7, said her character's design was inspired by items at home, such as the hands of a Lego mini-figure, roller skates and arms based on a shower hose.

Her father Yong Chern Chet, 42, a doctor, said of the book: "It's good that kids learn about these things early. Reading and writing for them will be increasingly linked to coding, which will be part of everyday life."

Speaking at the book launch on Sunday, AI Singapore senior deputy director of AI innovation Koo Seng Meng said copies will be given to lower-income families to ensure equal opportunities for all to learn about AI concepts.

He said at the National Library: "It is never too early to introduce and demystify AI for kids. We made a book to make AI relatable to them."

Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Huang, who was the guest of honour, said the pandemic has reshaped the way children use technology and that digital skills are increasingly important in jobs today.

Sarrah Ali Asghar, 8, one of the first people to read the book, said she learnt a list of new tech-related words and proudly explained the meaning of binary code: "a language made by humans that only computers can speak".

Her father, Mr Ali Asghar, 35, a science, technology engineering and mathematics educator, said: "It's interesting that these ideas are made into a story that is relatable to kids and can introduce them to these concepts."

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