At the weekend I went to see Wired’s NextFest – a showcase of cutting edge technologies ranging from furniture to space developments, from robotics to hybrid cars and solar cells.
While the exhibits themselves were great, it was almost more interesting to watch the myriad of children interracting with them. I don’t know at what point in a child’s development they become fully aware of the difference between reality and virtual reality, alive and animated but I think it must be after age 5 or so. Certainly young children were reacting to animated seals (designed as therapeutic toys for very ill kids) and robots as if they were really animals or people (or at least the line was very blurry). Those taking part in the computer games hitting virtual balls or kicking imaginary opponents set about it with a zeal that adults, stuck in reality, weren’t close to emulating.
It will be interesting to see the long-term consequences of childhood bonding with robots and animated pets as they become more prevalent in education and leisure activities. Could they even replace a parent as the primary carer?