When I watch the boundless energy of young children, and their parents’ frustration over it, I wonder how high-tech will alter how children are raised in the next few decades. Of course already TV, and now computers play a large role, and it seems very few toys don’t talk or move on their own.
But I’ve also realized that children, both from a sense of play and due to youthful simplicity, will tolerate some technologies far before adults will. For example, making an AI to pass the Turing Test for children may be much, much simpler than making one that can fool an adult. As such, we may start to see simple AIs meant for interacting with, occupying the minds of and educating children long before we find them usable as adults.
Another technology that young children might well tolerate sooner is virtual reality. We might hate the cartoonish graphics and un-natural interfaces of today’s VRs but children don’t know the interfaces aren’t natural — they will learn any interface — and they love cartoon worlds.
Seeing a toddler run around, I imagined a child-sized elliptical trainer with VR helmet where the kid can run and run and run until exhausted in a world full of interesting and even educational play. While many would want it as a short-term baby-minder (the same way the love TV) and child-exhauster, it could be much more than that.
Of course, it’s also possible to see some of these ideas as child abuse. Would a child in a jolly jumper harness on a treadmill be enthralled or imprisoned. (These games would have to be designed to be lawsuit-happy-world safe, which would limit just how much they could do.) And would too much time in the artificial world, which the child may not know is not reality, be harmful to development?
Of course, children turn out to be much better at telling the difference between make-believe and reality than we give them credit for. They just love make-believe more than we do. Once they get that understanding, I doubt they will be more harmed than they are watching endless repeats of their favourite animated DVD all day long. There is no need to hide what’s going on, in fact quite the reverse. You’re not going to get a kid to run on a treadmill or elliptical trainer very long, but if a safe helmet turns it into a magical world to explore they might love it as a fun, educational and exhausting game to play — and a few moments’ peace for the parents. Is this so far beyond the motorized rocking cradle?