As adults we often use the phrase “Technology is beautiful, but only when it works”. This pretty much defines our relationship with technology. Most of us, non-digital-natives think of everyday technology as a magical tool box that automatically does whatever it is supposed to and the days it does not we just say its bad luck. We do not expect technology to work for us, we just work with it.
Children on the other hand, have far bigger expectations from robots than we can imagine. From our recent workshop with children, we found out that they expect technology to respond to them in very human-like ways—to motivate and empower them, often serving their every command rather than being a tool for problem solving .
While many adults think of technology as being separate from human-ness altogether, children think of it as a fundamental human. It is supposed to comfort, keep company, help with homework and learn, and it listens to our every command, never saying no! Unlike the adults they are surrounded by.
When I asked a group of 8-10 year old, girls and boys, what would their dream robot teacher be like. This is what I learnt from them:
1. Made in my image.
It is utmost important that the robots be made in the image of their user. A conversation I overheard on the table “How old is your robot?”, “I think mine is about 3 years old”. It goes to show that kids absolutely believe robots to be humanlike. Without asking every kid in the group also named their roots.
As shown below in the drawing of Anya and Arushi* (9 year old girls). The robots have stretchable legs, and wheels for feet, but it is absolutely imperative that they have facial expression ( as illustrated by a 6 year old boy). The robot should be able to recognise different emotions based on facial features.
2. Robots are buddies not teachers!
“What would happen if a robot started to take your class tomorrow?”. “The teacher will run away”. “Why”. “Because the robot will harass her”. This answer, can be assumed that it has come from the point made above. Robots are supposed to be a mirror image of the kids themselves, i.e.: the child was probably narrating a scenario from class or something an adult ha said.
While kids often view learning and play as allied. One thing that was clear from this workshop, a generational theme I suppose, is that they do not want anyone, not even a robot, to teach them anything. Instead they want to be in charge, approach the robot only as when they desire. They want to directly engage the robot in questioning and learning, as shown in the images below. But most of the times they just want the robot to be a companion.
3. I command; therefore Robot is.
“If you bring your robot from school home, what will the robot do at home”. “He will make banana milkshakes for me”. “Would you not want to learn how to make milkshake from the robot”. A very confused 9 year old girl simply replies “Why?”.
Our young digital natives, have certainly understood one fundamental truth of technology; as humans we are in command of technology. Technology does not control us. Therefore the robot must be able to follow our every command!
As a 6 year boy explained ; “the robot will identify all the Lego Worlds on a map, around the world and take me there”. Easy Peasy.
4. Robots need to transform
While the four girls in the group were busy drawing images of female robots. The two, six year old boys were busy scribbling what looked like a very abstract concept of a robot. Upon asking the boys about their robots this is what I was explained: “The robot can be different from all sides. Just roll the paper” (See image below)
The other 6 year old said his robots needs to break apart like the Transformers do.
5. Robots also need to be creative
Ultimately, if we have not already asked the robots to be smart, funny, creative, obedient, companion, intuitive, a mirror image of me; we also want the robot to be creative! The robot must be able to draw rainbows and flowers!
Our children certainly expect far more from robots than we can actually provide them….
However, our workshops with kids really was not about robots, per se; it was about something much larger. It is really about visualizing the future for us as adults, parents and educators, adapting with and to technological invasion that we all know can not be avoided; but more importantly it is about making sure we are able to provide for the dreams that our children have.
*Names have been changed
Harshada is an experienced design researcher, focusing on working with kids, education pedagogy and educators. She is the editor of Steamdaily bringing to your insights, updates, interviews, and thoughts of the rapidly evolving world of edtech.