In less than 2 decades, your kids will basically live in an episode of Black Mirror. Or Westworld. Or, for those who still watch cable, Mr. Robot. With virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated robotics tech predicted to be commonplace by 2030, the digital and real world are quickly becoming one. What does this mean for your kid’s future? Well, according to acclaimed futurist and engineer Ian Pearson — a man who, for the past 25 years, has predicted tech advancements with startling accuracy — the coming decades will see technology radically altering how children interact with the world. From data-driven daycare to toys that form real-life friendships with your kids, here is his vision for the future of childhood. (Batteries not included.)
The Eyes Have It
There will be no scolding about screen time in the future, because it won’t be an issue. Don’t toss the confetti just yet. Of course, the core issue of exposing young kids to media won’t go away. But Pearson says kids will be wearing perception-changing contact lenses. Just like a tiny Terminator.
Google, Samsung, and Sony are working on this tech that will make screens obsolete, but still consume everyone’s life. “These contact lenses could replace every single display you have in today’s world,” says Pearson. If people were worried about letting kids watch another episode of Dinotrux, what happens when all they see are goddam metal monsters rolling down the street? “Their teddy bear could run around, do tricks on the floor … they could talk to it,” says Pearson. Teddy Ruxpin will seem like literal child’s play.
Artificial Intelligence. Real Friendships.
Pearson believes the future belongs to artificial intelligence. Is he a robot? Possibly. Either way, he believes imaginary playmates will become an endangered species. “Some of a child’s best friends will be AIs by 2030,” he says. “They’ll play with a lot of human kids of course, but some of their actual friends will be artificial.”
Refining code Microsoft currently uses, the cloud-based bots could hold conversations with children while taking whatever appearance they want — including favorite television characters. “Peppa Pig could sit with her at dinnertime and keep her amused when she’s putting up with you talking at her,” says Pearson. “[She] could encourage her that the broccoli isn’t actually poison and it might be fun trying it; [She] could interact with her and offer some positive encouragement.” In other words: Peppa Pig is their dad now.
One of the biggest upsides of artificial intelligence, per Pearson, is that it may be capable of a seemingly impossible task: Bringing order to the chaos of daycare. Unlike today’s human daycare worker, an assisting AI system could track each kid in a group of children without getting tired, overwhelmed, or freaking out when one goes on a kicking rampage or devours a box of crayons. “All sorts of things can go wrong when you have a group of kids,” Pearson said. “The advantage of a computer is it’s not limited in how many kids it can look at once. Playgroups would be much safer by alerting the care-givers if there’s a child that needs attention.”
Robotic Nannies Will Give Parents A Small Break
Pearson says that by the 2030s, fleets of self-driving cars will make the family roadster a thing of the past, freeing up money for dads to spend on a new status symbol: robots. These robots could handle household tasks like cleaning and doing short babysitting stints. “You can leave the children alone with them for a few minutes and it’ll be perfectly safe,” he says. “The robot can do security monitoring — checking for accidents and fires, answering simple queries, keeping the babies amused, and so on.”
Pearson admits that while robots could care for kids, they’re no Jetson’s Rosie. “I don’t think any robot’s going to be 2-year-old proof,” he says. “If a child’s got it in for the robot, you really wouldn’t want to leave them around something that expensive for long.”
You Can’t Stop What’s Coming
Pearson admits all of this is bit unsettling. Especially that creepy AI teddy bear. And while you can’t stop the future (unless you have a Delorean and 1.21 gigawatts of power.), you can accept it and start prepping your kids accordingly. “Those kids are going to grow up in a world where lots of AI is around and lots of robots, too,” he says. “They’re going to have to get used to them anyway. That’s part of growing up. They’ll never live in an adult world where those things aren’t around.” (Or at least until they get that Delorean working.)