Sharing a fun neural network program with kids

I just finished a summer class at MIT on machine learning.  It was a week-long professional education class and it was great.  On the 4th day of the class we discussed neural networks and played around a little with this program:

A Neural Network Playground

Most of the ideas in the class involve math concepts from linear algebra and calculus and are way beyond anything that you would expect kids to know.  This program, however, seemed like something kids could play with – so we played with it this morning.

First I introduced them – in the most basic way possible – to the idea of classification:

After that short introduction I let the boys play with the program for 15 minutes. They (of course) built the most complicated model that they could and we talked about what they saw. They actually had a pretty good intuition for what was going on – it is too bad that the math ideas required to really dive into the topic are so advanced. Even though we didn’t talk about the math, it was really fun to hear their thoughts about how the model was working.

For the last part of the project we watched a video about a computer that learned to control a model helicopter. The original video is here:

and here’s how my kids reacted to it:

So, a really fun week for me learning about data analysis and machine learning. It was nice to have a small way to share some of what I learned with the boys.

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