Over the course of 2010, Latitude Research completed a multi-phase innovation study, Children’s Future Requests for Computers and the Internet, asking kids across the world to draw the answer to this question: “What would you like your computer or the Internet to do that it can’t do right now?” This study is part of a larger research initiative by Latitude that positions younger generations as a window into the future of technology, capable of informing tech experiences that resonate with people of all ages.

Download the study summary (PDF) for Children’s Future Requests for Computers and the Internet.

Kim Gaskins is Director of Content Development at Latitude, an international research consultancy. Visit latd.com/ for other studies in Latitude’s open innovation series.

More than 200 kid-innovators, ages 12 and under, from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, South Asia and Australia, submitted drawings of their imagined technologies. By and large, kids wanted their technology to be more interactive and human, better integrated with their physical lives and empowering to users (such as by assisting new knowledge or abilities).

“Teleport through the screen to another computer at the place of your choice.” –Male, 9, Perth, Australia

“I want an interface where we can search, not by text, but by drawing–and get image results with that particular shape or pattern.”
–Female, 12, Mumbai, India

Researchers scored kids’ inventions on the presence of specific technology themes, such as type of interface, degree of interactivity, physical-digital convergence, user’s desired end-goal and so on.* The following infographic displays some of the top attributes present in kids’ created technologies across world regions. (Download the full PDF report summary to read more about cross-cultural differences.)

To view a larger version, click here. Infographic created by Latitude in collaboration with ffunction, (cc) some rights reserved.

The following are key insights to come from an analysis of children’s future requests for technology:

The Digital vs. Physical Divide is Disappearing (Tech = World)

Kids today don’t neatly divide the “online” from the “offline.” For them, these two realms continue to converge as technologies become more interactive, portable, connected and integrated with “real world” activities. Nearly 4 in 10 kids imagined technologies that integrated the virtual with the physical, such as more immersive experiences of physical spaces (e.g., real or simulated travel) or devices that assisted physical activities (e.g., playing sports). At a time when 3D movies are still a novelty and 3D televisions have just begun to hit the market, a full 9% of kids explicitly built 3D effects into their own imagined technologies.

“I’d like it if my computer could convert images or food and make them real.” –Female, 10, Pakenham, Australia

“I’d like to go through the computer to the places that are inside it.” –Female, 4, Medellin, Colombia (translated from Spanish)

For kids, technology is no longer something that mediates experience, but something that pervades it. “There’s a real opportunity to create new experiences where the technology seems to disappear, where we experience the web directly – and almost magically – in the world,” says Steve Mushkin, Founder and President of Latitude who’s speaking at ReadWriteWeb’s 2WAY Summit today on the topic of kids as tech innovators.

Why Aren’t Computers More Human? (Tech = Me)

Kids expressed a desire for more intuitive modes of input as well as higher degrees of responsiveness from technology. Only half of kids envisioned technologies that used the standard keyboard/mouse interface, while 36% went for more fluid interfaces: touchscreen, verbal/auditory, gestural and even telepathic in some cases.

“Help Computer: it knows what you are thinking and does it for you–both touch and voice controlled.” –Male, 8, Brisbane, Australia

The majority of kids (77%) illustrated a technology with more dynamic, human-level responsiveness. Children in Africa, South Asia and Latin America were much more likely to anthropomorphize computers in a direct way–to imagine them as friends or teachers that could share their experiences or help in the accomplishment of a goal. Additionally, 43% of all children drew themselves or another person interacting with their creations, highlighting the shrinking gap between gadget and user: the “iGeneration” understanding of device as merely an extension of oneself.

“A robot that would help me pick out fashion clothes everyday and dress me.” –Female, 8, Potchefstroom, South Africa

Technology Can Improve and Empower Us (Me = World)

Instant access to people, information and possibilities reinforces young users’ confidence and interest in self-development. One-third of kids invented technologies that would empower users by fostering knowledge or otherwise “adult” skills, such as speaking a different language or learning how to cook.

“I want to video kids on the other side of the world using a different kind of language.” –Female, 7, Warwick, RI, United States

“Kids want technology to either act as a companion – a friend they can enjoy various activities with – or as a tool that empowers them to grow and express themselves,” explains Jessica Reinis, a research analyst at Latitude who led the study. “In some cases, we saw the fusion of these two with kids envisioning tech as teacher.”

In addition to self-development, kids expected technology to enable and empower them as creators. One-quarter of kids’ inventions – the same number which favored gaming – centered on art or design. “Technology is a fully integrated part of kids’ lives and this makes their creativity and their drive to create with it boundless because tech is really just an extension of themselves,” says Vanessa Van Petten, founder of Radical Parenting and author of Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded? Nearly 1/3 of all children went beyond simple creations, envisioning more flexible platforms for creating games, Web sites, action figures and so on. Kids’ interest in a wide range of design fields–industrial, landscape, fashion, game, Web and more–reflects the visual richness of the online world, as well as the can-do creative drive that tech encourages.

“I want to make up my own video game.” –Male, 8, Kennewick, WA, United States

This part 1 of a 2-part series. Check back later this week for the next installment including opportunities for creators of technology experiences for both kids and adults.

Latitude 42 Study: Children’s Future Requests for Computers & the Internet

*Note: Reported frequencies may be based on total number of submissions that were possible to code on a given variable, rather than total number of study participants.

Image credit: Marcus Kwan, (cc) some rights reserved.

Latitude is proud to have partnered with ReadWriteWeb on phase 1 of Children’s Future Requests for Computers and the Internet. Latitude is an international research consultancy helping clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web. To learn more about working with Latitude, contact Ian Schulte (ischulte@latd.com).