From left, sixth-graders Robert Aquino, Abraham Coche and Ayden Skrecz researched...

From left, sixth-graders Robert Aquino, Abraham Coche and Ayden Skrecz researched the risks of artificial intelligence at Barack Obama Elementary School, an International Baccalaureate school, in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

During a presentation Friday by sixth-graders at Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead on "How the World Works," one group of students tackled artificial intelligence, finding there were risks as well as rewards with the emerging technology. 

AI has grabbed headlines worldwide lately for its potential to alter how people live and work. But in that potential, experts see complications.

So do the students: They discovered AI prompted "huge conflict, like all different types of risks," said Robert Aquino, 11, part of a team that studied it.

 "It comes with privacy violations, because AI can detect anything," Robert said. And he and his fellow teammates noted how the technology can be used to create misinformation, including fake images and even voices.

Robert said "deep fakes can steal your voice and actually create a new video" not based on reality. "Someone can take [President] Joe Biden's voice and generate something he never said." And that, Robert added, "was a huge risk."

The students' AI exhibition panel displayed a photograph of Pope Francis that was published earlier this year in which he is sporting a white "puffer" winter coat — an image that had been faked.

Ayden Skrecz, 11, noted that was "not the natural style of the pope ... that means AI can say anything in your name." He also said it can re-create a person's voice "to get into your personal information."

But he noted a positive aspect of AI: facial recognition technology that can protect an individual's personal identity, precluding someone else from obtaining it. 

In addition to investigating artificial intelligence, the students explored other themes, such as "Life Below Water," "Sustainable Cities," "Nuclear War" and more. They were scheduled to share their research with students in the lower grades at the International Baccalaureate school, one with programs of accelerated study. 

There was a festive air at the exhibition site in a school field, with colorful balloons adorning canopies under which the students staged their poster-board panels outlining their research.

Parents and members of the community also were invited, school Principal Lisaura Moreno said. "We want our students to be global thinkers and discuss issues that are happening in our society, not just at the local level, but globally," she said.

Another of those students, Joseph Drepaul, 11, an AI teammate, said while the technology can be used to "trick people," it also can be used to help.

For example, he shared a story about his mother, who he thought was about to be scammed by someone who sounded like his aunt. He was suspicious, so he suggested his mother make use of a "scam blocker" app, which he said detected the problem.   

Joy Thompson, the Hempstead school district's International Baccalaureate coordinator who oversees the six elementary school IB coaches, said the exhibition was a "the culminating activity for the highest grade level, which is sixth grade."

"They are allowed to identify how they want to learn, Thompson said. "This culminating presentation speaks to what they have decided: Looking at global issues ... and looking at issues in society as a whole."

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