Technology Is "Almost Human," Children Say

English: This picture is of two children on a ...

Children view technology as being fundamentally human, as researchers aim to predict future needs for innovation.

Research firm Latitude’s study, Robots@School, asked children around the world to write and illustrate a story answering the question “What would happen if robots were a part of your everyday life — at school and beyond?”

The results showed how children, who are “digital natives” raised around technology, see robots as being almost human, fulfilling functions of friendship and even parenting, and reveals how technology blurs the line between education and playing.

Education and learning are moving, at least in many children’s eyes, beyond acts of knowledge transmission toward acts of exploration and creation,” said Steve Mushkin, founder and president of Latitude.

Technology is already changing how children learn, and the mobile industry is responding. For example, Apple is reinventing easily worn, cumbersome textbooks with new digital textbooks featuring interactive, multi-touch capabilities, video, graphics, and built-in quizzes and reviews to offer “immediate feedback.” Apple will offer the new materials through a new “Textbook” category in the iBookstore.

Computers have been a part of schools for several years, but the study showed that children would likely love to have robots in class with them as well. Nearly 350 children, ages 8-12, from Australia, France, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, participated in the Robots @ School study, submitting drawings and text-based narratives of their imagined experiences with robots.

Latitude is planning to expand the study to include children in Asia.

In the study, nearly two-thirds of the children took it for granted that robots would make excellent human-like friends, conceiving of their fictional robots as peers they can identify with. They even imagined robots would be socially successful because they were smart.

The children also imagined robots that were better versions of their parents and teachers and offered them limitless time and patience. Conversely, they envisioned robots as being machines that would take on boring tasks so the children have more time for interesting pursuits.

“While children imagine robots that are virtually human in many regards, it’s their slight machine-ness that ultimately makes robots such effective partners for learning and creative exploration,” said Ian Schulte, director of technology and business development at Latitude. “Robots support and encourage, but don’t judge. They don’t run into scheduling conflicts, and they certainly don’t ostracize kids for wrong answers or unconventional thinking.”

The study could hold implications about how education and technology can integrate further in the future. The more interactive or human-like the technology, the more likely children will identify with it, which may enhance how they learn.

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