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Where Is Tech Headed? Just Ask Kids Around the World

Looking for innovative directions and ideas for your software projects? Just ask kids. They’ll tell you that the future lies in better integration of digital experiences with the real world and “more intuitive, human-like interactions with devices, such as those provided by fluid interfaces or robots.”

From the crayons of 201 kids -- none older than 12 -- in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Panama, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S. came a wealth of ideas as described in the study, Children’s Future Requests for Computers and the Internet. Conducted by Latitude, an international research consultancy “that helps clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web,” the study examined our tech future imaginings and desires as seen through the eyes of kids, or as the study calls them, “digital natives.”

What opportunities for developers do they reveal? Perhaps it’s no surprise that the drawings demonstrated “that kids wanted their technology to be more interactive and human, better integrated with their physical lives, and empowering to users by assisting new knowledge or abilities.” The researchers looked for specific tech themes, and they found plenty -- shedding light on how your software can engage this new audience.

For example, say goodbye to the divide between digital and physical. Kids thought of computers that could “print” real food or let them touch objects they see on their screen. Forty percent conjured up a world where they were immersed in physical spaces (such as real or simulated travel) or devices that helped them with a physical activity. The survey calls this the Internet of Things, which is replacing the Internet of Information Delivery. There’s a greater interest in using the Web for self-improvement (to learn a new language, for example); almost a third thought of platforms for “creating games, Web sites, [and] action figures.” The “urge to create” was strong: design (landscaping, fashion) were popular.

The youngsters see a user interface that is more interactive -- one-fifth incorporated verbal-auditory controls (voice activation and control, for example); 15 percent wanted touchscreens. Robots and virtual companions showed up, too, and children in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America were more likely to think of their computers as friends or teachers.

Where a child lives has an influence in their outlook. For those in the U.S., Europe, and Australia (92 percent of the sample), the focus was on interactivity. For children in South Asia and Africa, the emphasis was an “a clear outcome ... or tangible benefit” (such as providing help with their homework). Yes, there were even kids that envisioned systems to help them clean their rooms.

“Kids are asking for computers to look, feel, sound, act – and interact – more like humans,” said Jessica Reinis, a senior research analyst at Latitude and the study’s leader. “In many cases, it’s not enough to have a machine that simply completes a task for them; kids today have a strong bent towards independent learning, creation and artistic endeavors, and they’re looking for technologies that can teach them and really engage them in new ways.”

A picture is worth a thousand words, so check out this collection of the kids' artwork.

-- James E. Powell
Editorial Director, ESJ

Posted by Jim Powell on 07/06/2011 at 11:53 AM