Predicting future technology: ask the children, study urges

Today's 20-something Internet innovators may be old-timers when it comes to anticipating what lies ahead in the digital economy. Generation Dora may be the ultimate digital explorers.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

The rise of multi-millionaire innovators in their teens and early 20s may be the stuff of legends, but these folks may be old-timers when it comes to anticipating what lies ahead in the digital economy. Generation Dora may be able to tell us even more what's around the corner for technology, from new search capabilities, to applications for robots and other cutting-edge innovations. Already, youngsters see no difference between virtual and face-to-face interactions.

At least that's the conclusion of a new study conducted and released by Latitude, a technology research consultancy, published in collaboration with ReadWriteWeb. The study's main takeaway message: "kids are predicting that the future of media and technology lies in better integrating digital experiences with real-world places and activities. They’re also suggesting that more intuitive, human-like interactions with devices, such as those provided by fluid interfaces or robots, are a key area for development."

To arrive at this conclusion, Latitude asked kids across the world to draw the answer to this question: “What would you like your computer or the Internet to do that it can’t do right now?” The goal of the study was to catch a glimpse into possible futures for technology as seen by digital natives, and to highlight actionable opportunities for new content, user experience, and technology offerings. More than 200 children from across the globe, ages 12 and under, participated and submitted drawings of their imagined technologies.

As the study observes:

"Overall, 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. Several study participants imagined technologies that are just beginning to appear in tech-forward circles, such as Google’s revamped image search, announced on June 14th 2011, which allows users to place images, rather than text, in Google's search box to perform a query."

Researchers scored the kids’ inventions on the presence of specific technology themes, such as type of interface, degree of interactivity, physical-digital convergence and user’s desired end-goal. Latitude also has posted an infographic displaying some of the top attributes presented in kids’ created technologies across world regions, as well as some of the kids' drawings.

Additional insights and business implications from the study include the following:

  • The Digital vs. Physical Divide is Disappearing: Children today don’t neatly divide their virtual interactions from their experiences of the “real world.” For them, these two realms continue to converge as technologies become more interactive, portable, connected and integrated. Nearly 4 in 10 kids imagined technologies that bridged the gap between virtual and physical experiences. “For many kids, the ‘online’ versus ‘offline’ and 'virtual' versus 'real' distinctions are quickly disappearing,” says Steve Mushkin, founder and president of Latitude. “They naturally think about a future in which traditionally ‘online’ interactions make their way into the physical world, and vice versa – a concept already playing out in augmented reality, transmedia storytelling, the Internet of Things, and other recent tech developments.”
  • Why Aren’t Computers More Human? The majority of kids (77%) imagined technologies with more intuitive modes of input (e.g., verbal, gestural, and even telepathic), often capable of human-level responsiveness, suggesting that robots with networking functionality and real-time, natural language processing, could be promising areas of opportunity for companies in education, entertainment, and other industries. “Kids are asking for computers to look, feel, sound, act – and interact – more like humans,” says Jessica Reinis of Latitude. “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.”
  • Technology Improves and Empowers: Instant access to people, information and possibilities reinforces young users’ confidence and interest in self-development. One-third of kids invented technologies that would empower them by fostering knowledge or otherwise “adult” skills, such as speaking a different language or learning how to cook. Some participants moved beyond personal development, envisioning technologies that could foster positive social connections or influence behaviors tied to sustainability. “One of the sweet spots we see clearly is content and game elements that flow seamlessly between screen space and physical space, and which have the ability to change the ‘real world’ for the better – for instance, online games that generate real currency to help solve societal problems or games that use social motivators and accountability to influence personal behaviors in health, energy use, and so on,” explains Mushkin.

There were a few suggestion seen in the report than may take a bit longer than a generation to realize, such as teleportation via computer screens, or the ability to automatically clean up messy rooms.

The impact of digitization on up-and-coming generations has been explored in some depth in recent years, especially in the works of Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, who says today's younger generation -- truly digital natives -- are bringing a whole new mindset to the economy and society. Today's younger generation sees the world as highly interconnected community, with information and entertainment instantaneously available. The Latitude study brings to light some interesting revelations about what the next generation is looking for in the next decade.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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