Sunday April 03, 2016

Raising robotic natives

An art project imagines how we could prepare future generations for the age of robotics.

An art project imagines how we could prepare future generations for the age of robotics. (Raising Robotic Natives)

Researchers in human-computer interaction are interested in exploring our comfort levels around robots: whether it's trusting them with small tasks, like vacuuming our homes, to weightier ones, like leading us to safety in dangerous situations.

But while we're still trying to figure out how to live alongside robots, there's the next generation to worry about, the so-called robotic natives. These are the children who will be raised alongside robots and take this advanced technology as a given, similar to the ease with which digital natives nowadays interact with digital technology like Siri and Snapchat. 

To address this generational shift, a group of interaction design students from HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd in Germany have created a conceptual project called Raising Robotic Natives. It's designed to help us imagine what life will be like for children growing up with robots as a natural part of the household.

laws or robotics book

Children can learn Asimov's 3 laws of robotics in an accessible way. (Raising Robotic Natives)

Stephan Bogner, along with his colleagues Jonas Voigt and Philipp Schmitt, have created four objects that represent four stages of adapting children to the presence of robots. All these objects are designed to make us question the desirable degree of automation in the lives of our children. For example, one of the objects, an industrial-looking robotic arm baby bottle feeder, is described as "[saving] parents 15–30 minutes per bottle. This makes for a significant increase in efficiency." 

Robot baby feeder

A robotic bottle feeder can help the baby get used to the presence of robots from birth. (Raising Robotic Natives)

But, as Stephan says, this may not be the kind of time-saving measure we want in our own lives or our children's lives. "For us, the baby feeder was kind of a radical concept. It basically asks the question if that's the future we want."