A few months ago I caught a rerun of an old Star Trek: TNG episode (sorry, I don't have the ep. name) - it opened with a child, maybe 6 or 7 years old complaining to his parents that he didn't like Calculus or something like that. It reminded me of a book I hadn't read in a while, so I dug out my old copy of Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" - in it, a young girl finds a "book" that is interactive - it speaks to her and shows her pictures. The young girl uses it to first learn the alphabet and how to spell... it tells her stories, and if she doesn't recognize a word or concept in the story, the book goes off on a tangent and teaches her new content until it can return to the original story. Fiction, of course, but who wouldn't want their child to have a book that moved at the child's speed and would provide content at an increasing rate based on the child's interest?
This got me thinking recently about our LEGO NXT kits... and about the new WeDo kits. Given availability, many kids are now able to start tinkering with robotics at an even younger age. LEGO has provided a kit that will allow a teacher or parent to gauge a child's interest in computers or robots or programming. My son already can't keep his hands off my laptop keyboard and has figured out that dragging his fingers on the touchpad moves the mouse pointer on screen. He's not even 2 yet.
There are other subjects that I believe kids should be introduced to - art, music, history, and more. And each of these subjects probably have their own methods for introducing and encouraging kids to learn more. But we're talking about technology here - specifically, robots. So it makes me wonder how I can use my computer and robot kits to make learning more fun and more supportive when he needs extra help.
It's coming - I can see the day when a child has their own personal robot that imprints on them... follows them, maybe... and is always challenging them with questions and providing some answers. With the development of advanced WiFi technologies, the day is near when Internet connectivity with all devices will be "always on" so access to Wikis and other sites that can provide questions and answers will be a nanosecond away from a robot going out and grabbing a response to a child's query. Text-to-Voice (and vice-versa) conversion is here, but not great, but there will be breakthroughs in that area as well as voice detection and parsing of statements and questions.
Personal robots have a long way to go, but the technology is also moving so fast. I believe we're going to be shocked at the development or robots over the next 10 years. My first computer, the very first Apple Macintosh, had a floppy drive, no hard drive, b&w screen, and a single-button mouse. That was in 1984. Now, 25 years later, my laptop is more powerful than 500 of those Macs put together - and remember, 1984 was pre-Internet. The Dark Ages of computers is over... (can be argued, of course)... now we're going to start seeing robots being developed for all kinds of roles and not just as toys and heavy manufacturing solutions. They're primed and ready to start filling in the other areas of our daily lives - commuting, cooking, cleaning, etc.
It will be interesting to see what the LEGO MINDSTORMS 2020 version looks like. It's only 11 years away, but with all the breakthroughs that are occuring, I'm certain that a RIS owner from 1998 wouldn't recognize it if they had a glimpse. Maybe the next wave of robotics kits (LEGO and non-LEGO) will be for kids to build their own personal learning companion and tweak its outer design to their own style - the operating system and software will "wake up" and the robot will begin to teach its new friend as it begins to learn, too.