For the first time, there are “Jugend hackt” labs that focus exclusively on AI. After a tremendous success at the premiere events held in parallel in the Saxon cities Dresden, Freiberg and Görlitz in July, the three hackerspaces for children still enjoy great popularity.
AI Hackerspaces for Kids
“Jugend hackt” is a non-profit program of the Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland e.V. and mediale pfade – Verein für Medienbildung e.v. The program initially organised regular Hackathons for young adults ranging from 12 to 18 years to spread enthusiasm for coding and hardware. Starting from 2019 “Jugend hackt” started to collaborate with local partners to open Hackerspaces all over Germany. Now, Jugend hackt opens three new labs in Saxony: The so-called KI Labs – KI is the German abbreviation for Künstliche Intelligenz, meaning Artificial Intelligence – are run at the Dresden Technical Collections (TSD), the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF), and the Center for Advanced Systems Understanding (CASUS) in Görlitz. Together, Helmholtz AI local unit Matter at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), TSD, HIF, and CASUS developed the “KI Labs” idea.
For the first time these labs will be focusing on coding, cyber-physical systems and artificial intelligence (AI). Understanding AI and its use is becoming increasingly important because applications already have an impact on our lives today and emerging applications will surely have even greater effects on individuals as well as society as a whole.
Depending on the location, there have been three to four events since July 2021. Even though not everyone that showed up once continues to come, each lab is visited by an average of seven interested kids aged between 12 and 18. “This is a perfect size to guarantee close guidance by us,” says Dr. Nico Hoffmann, head of a Helmholtz AI young investigator group located at HZDR. Nico is the Lab lead of the Görlitz lab that is located at the HZDR-affiliated CASUS—Germany’s easternmost research institute. Lucas Pereira, a Lab lead in Freiberg, adds, “it is a wonderful opportunity for us Lab leads to connect with our local community and learn from their experiences”.
Each of the three labs emphasizes different aspects of AI, for instance, “the focus of Jugend hackt Lab: Freiberg is to teach the youth how artificial intelligence can be applied to tackle current challenges of our society such as recycling and the implementation of circular economy” says Raimon Tolosana-Delgado, also a Lab lead in Freiberg. The three Saxon hackerspaces work together when it comes to workshops, lectures and excursions. For instance, an interactive video conference-based “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” was given in all three locations in parallel in early September.
“Every meeting is different. To introduce the topic, we show some rousing AI experiments at our opening about what can be done with AI algorithms,” adds Nico Hoffmann. “In one of these apps, you can play a short melody, and the AI responds with a matching sequence. Another example relates to image recognition: under time constraints, you try to sketch an elephant, for example. Even if the person drawing the elephant shows a certain lack of talent, the computer surprisingly often recognizes the animal correctly.”
The focus of the meetings is clearly on getting your hands dirty with AI as well as creative usage of computers. The aim is to make the entry barrier into fiddling and tinkering with code and AI as low as possible. The Görlitz lab, for example, has a long-term project that aims to pimp up the CASUS lounge with LEDs, Neopixels, sewed into a curtain to produce fancy animated lights. Barely surprising, there is high demand for another future project that focuses on game development and AI using the Unity engine.
In the future, the Saxon Jugend hackt labs are also going to organize open coding sessions where young participants can decide for themselves which project they want to pursue. Together with their mentors, they will clarify questions such as: What hardware & data do I need? How do I get hold of this data? How do I evaluate it? And how do I present the results? “We particularly want to encourage young people to use AI to solve urgent societal issues,” according to Holger Seifert and Helene Hoffmann who run the Jugend hackt lab in Dresden.
Jugend hackt offers young people spaces to experiment at many locations throughout Germany and a platform to network with like-minded people. With the slogan “Improving the world with code,” the program is aimed at anyone who wants to develop digital tools, prototypes, and concepts for a better future. While the standard events take place now and then on extended weekends and have the character of a hackathon, the smaller Jugend hackt labs are organized every other week. The labs aim to establish an engaged local Jugend hackt community.
Dr. Nico Hoffmann, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)
Phone: +49 351 260 3668