This Is What Kids Want From Robots


Image via ALIZ-E Project

We've been waiting for years (decades, in fact) for robots to become integral parts of our daily lives, but it hasn't quite happened yet. We're getting closer, that's for sure, but it's starting to look like it might be our kids (and not us) who will get the full benefit of the forthcoming robot revolution. With that in mind, Latitude Research has collaborated with with LEGO Learning Institute and Australia's Project Synthesis to compile a study of how children see robots fitting into their lives.

Latitude asked 348 kids between the ages of eight and twelve from Europe, Africa, Australia, and America to write and illustrate a story answering the following question: "What would happen if robots were a part of your everyday life—at school and beyond?” Here's a sample of what the kids would come up with:

Robots and children education study by Latitude

Each story was scored based on a variety of variables from relationships to activities, and Latitude took all those data and came up with a bunch of fascinating insights. We've picked out just a couple of these, and you can download the entire report here.

Robots Are Role Models And Nerdiness Is Cool

Although some kids cast their robots in a superhuman or sci-fi mold, many created humanoid peers they could identify with and aspire to be like. Generally, the imagined robots could speak and communicate with ease, came “pre-loaded” with smarts and useful knowledge, and were social naturals. Nearly 2/3 of kids took for granted that robots could make excellent human friends in spite of their machine intelligence—blurring the line between technology and humanness.

Robots’ “machine magnetism” and general likeability doesn’t stem from their novelty. (In fact, kids tell us robots are a lot like us.) It stems from their intelligence; being a nerd is a net positive, not a social stigma, in kids’ story worlds. This is, no doubt, also true in the real world (sans robots) for today’s digital natives—robots simply helped to illuminate what kids value in social scenarios.

A Robot Can Be Your Friend

By and large, kids (64%) described robots as if they were natural, human-like companions: as humanoid peers that could speak and communicate with ease, came “pre-loaded” with smarts and useful knowledge, and were social naturals. While many of us tend to think of robots as boxy and mechanical in appearance, a full 1/3 of kids explicitly described their robots’ physical form as human-like, and 29% bothered to specify that their robots’ primary mode of interaction was speech.

We know from our previous work with kids that they tend to view technology as something fundamentally human (rather than separate from humanness, as many adults perceive it). Not surprisingly, robots tended to be easily assimilated into kids’ existing peer groups. Unlike most kids in the study’s age range, who are starting to deal with social cliques and the complexities of popularity, robots possess an enviable ability to fit in with other kids—to be natural fixtures in peer groups because, not in spite, of their smarts. In other words, being a nerd is a net positive, not a social stigma, in kids’ story worlds. This is, no doubt, also true in the real world (sans robots) for today’s digital natives—robots simply helped to illuminate what kids value in social scenarios.

Learning and Play Can Be The Same

While one might expect kids to create more stories about play than learning, an equal number (38%) focused on each of these themes. Kids are quick to see learning and play as related, often overlapping, activities, even if their lives are much more compartmentalized in practice (e.g., school, after-school activities, family obligations, etc.).

They recognize that they shouldn’t have to make trade-offs between learning and playing, and tended not to make hard choices between the two in their narratives; instead, kids (with their robots) moved fluidly between learning and play, and oftentimes participated in activities at the intersection of both. On one end of the spectrum, a robot might help a child make a game out of his or her math homework; on the other end, the act of building a fort can become an educational process. In the middle, kids seek to learn either physical or academic skills because doing so is enjoyable in itself.

It's definitely worth checking out the entire report, as Latitude has some suggestions about how technology in general (not just through robotics) can be better used to help kids learn. They've also put a selection of the kids' illustrations up on Flickr here. My own personal favorite picture is definitely this one, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this particular 11 year-old already has some sort of robot helping him to neatly write out words like "holographic projector."

[ Latitude ] via [ Fast Company ]

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