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Sunday, September 30, 2012


A Tablet to grow up with

What if every child were to get a tablet computer at age 6? And what if the tablet is such that it grows up with the child and is still useful at age 100? What sort of a tablet would we need?

Here is a 2012 fantasy tour of the tablet that could be....

Its called 'The Prime'

Abu got his Prime on his sixth birthday. It was in a sleek and shiny, wine coloured box next to his pillow when he woke up. Abu thought he should hug his mother, but considering her mood at six in the morning, he decided not to. Instead, he opened the box.

A soft and very organic silicone clamshell slipped out of the box. The prime nestled inside it. Abu opened the paper thin cover, like the cover of a new book. A tiny light blinked red, yellow and then blue on the top right corner of the very thin, half a millimetre, bezel around dark screen.

'I am your Prime, Abu', said the Prime and Abu nearly dropped it although the five inch screen was a perfect fit for his small hand. 'Do you want to give me a name?', said the Prime.

'Boomba', said Abu, now quite enjoying himself. His Prime giggled and said, 'OK, Abu'

In the next fifteen minutes, Boomba took a picture of Abu's face, his fingerprint, had him recite a poem to get his voice pattern, had him stand on itself to measure his weight. The black screen was now lit up with a pale blue light and a lovely abstract, fractal background. Abu found out that he could turn it off by saying 'Get dark!' and turn it on by picking it up, staring at it, or by saying 'Boomba!'

Boomba found a WiFi signal, the date, time, its location, the ambient temperature and humidity from the Cloud and its sensors. Then it 'dressed itself' as it put it. Its quad core processor took less than ten seconds to do that. Now Boomba had a face, somewhat like that of a large mobile phone. Abu plugged its tiny wireless charger into a power socket, even though he was not supposed to touch any power sockets. Boomba told Abu it would charge upto 25 feet away from the socket, so he could put it next to his bed.

The Prime was expensive, but Boomba's mother got it for free. The price of the Prime and unlimited lifelong 20 Mbps wireless broadband were paid for by the government, for every child, from a 1% tax on cigarettes, alcohol and cosmetics.

Abu carried his Prime everywhere. In school he found out that you could join Primes together to make bigger screens. In their Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs), Abu and three of his friends would take two Primes out of their silicone sleeves and put two Primes side by side until they clicked together. Then they would put two more below these two to make a ten inch screen. The bezels were so thin, they could barely make out the edges dividing the screens. Once, the entire group put all their Primes together to make a 60 inch screen and watched a TED talk. The speaker was nearly life size!

The tiny camera on the Prime could be slipped out of the Prime and put back facing the front or back of the tablet. So, Abu would have the camera face him when he was Skyping his friends or mediators. But he would turn the camera the other way when he wanted to take pictures or videos.

In Norway, a 10 year old had tied his Prime to his head with the camera pointed outwards. Abu was online with him over Skype. Then he got on a bicycle and Abu guided him to ride around his village and show him everything. It was different from India, Abu decided, but not that different. That evening he asked Boomba to tell him about the history of Norway and India. So different, and yet, so same.

Abu was too young to realise that his Prime would turn the camera and microphone on every 5 seconds for a quarter of a second so that it could make patterns from the pictures and sounds to figure out what Abu's life was like. Once when Abu was sneezing, Boomba asked him to put his finger of the thermal sensor and told his mother that he was about to get a fever. Boomba would later also tell Abu's parents that his height and weight were increasing normally and that his hand-eye coordination was fine. Boomba also reported that Abu's hearing was really good and that his reading comprehension was a level above what it should be for his age.

Abu's sister Julie was 17 and her Prime, called Amy, had been with her for the last 11 years. Amy was a bit battered from use but Julie had got the screen, camera and battery changed several times, so it really was like a new Prime. Amy knew Julie more than anyone else in the world. It knew her friends, her interests, her abilities, her looks, her moods, her relationships and her sorrows. Julie could not imagine a life without her Amy.

Sometimes, Amy would join with Boomba over the WiFi and exchange notes, or they would look for global patterns of child behaviour with millions of other Primes on the Cloud.

In school, the children would research topics in groups of four with their Primes joined together into 10 inch screens. Groups would talk to other groups, sometimes in other places in the world and discuss what they had found. During examinations, the Primes would help their owners work out the best answers and also check the childrens cognitive, creative and imaginative abilities.

Boomba had, in the meanwhile, taught Abu to play the guitar and sing. They often played a tune together and Abu's mother thought that was really good.

Sometimes, at night, Boomba would call an eMediator from the Granny Cloud to read out fairy tales to Abu until he fell asleep. Then it would turn the lights out and keep an eye on the room door until morning. When Abu walked to the bus stop to go to school, Boomba rattled happily in his pocket. Once, when Abu tripped on the pavement and fell, Boomba had screamed out of his pocket, 'This child needs your help, please, this child needs your help'.

Boomba grew with Abu, changing his stories, his games, his music, his research habits. It monitored Abu's learning, his healthcare parameters, his learning and thinking styles, his intelligences. Boomba suggested solutions when it detected problems – it used the best resources from the Cloud to do so. It even changed its own voice to match his baritone. When, at 13 a thin moustache began to grow on Abu's upper lip, Boomba showed him what it looked like and what he might look like at 40!

Then they laughed a lot, together.

Well, thats it, dear reader, about the tablet to grow up with. Except for the last bit. When, after a happy and productive life, Abu, now 93, fell into a quiet coma and died, Boomba did not make a sound. It waited for a while, as Abu's fingers grew cold....then it deleted its drives on the Cloud....and switched off.



13 Comments:

Blogger George Machlan said...

I love the story and the concept. Participating in the journey of children into tomorrow's digital world is much to be desired.

I am a bit concerned about the "government" as curator and empowerment engine of education. You of all people should be suspicious of trusting government to do anything well.

Some of the great strides in this technology were directly due to autonomy and independent innovation. I personally doubt that a highly structured and organized experience will serve the continued growth of said innovative developments.

We are in a giant dichotomy. Technology is allowing us to be able to do more and more individually towards fulfillment. But, the technology is also disconnecting us more and more from our immediate relationships and human societal imperatives.

I have not the answer but I am very happy that there those like you who dare to dream of what might be.

September 30, 2012 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Sugata Mitra said...

Point taken about the Government. I just wqnt them to make the Cloud free for children....

September 30, 2012 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Brian J Langsdon said...

A very interesting and thought provoking vision. I, too, was skeptical of the governmental involvement - not so much for their inability to get things right (although, it's a fair consideration) but because of the implications of such a globally integrated device. The George Orwell in me sees the darker connotations, of conditioning and socio-eco-cultural manipulation.

Anyway, all that being said, I am very interested in the idea of child-led autonomous learning. I am currently in my third and final year of my BA Hons in Primary Education and will, this time next year, be responsible for my own class of learning enthusiasts.

I believe that children learn in-spite of teachers and educators, rather than as a result - a good teacher nurtures their natural learning ability, as opposed to replacing it with the economistic doctrine of society and adulthood.

Thank you for your inspiration and vision.

October 11, 2012 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Sarah Hart said...

Nice story.
This reminds me of the book "The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" by Neal Stephenson. That's a great book.
I love the idea of the tablets being interlocking. I'm not sure I like it monitoring the kid regarding the environment they live in, etc. In the US, this could be seen as broaching privacy rights.
I also would not have it delete all files after the person dies. I do understand space is limited, but I think it would be cool for a grandchild to inherit the same tablet, or at least to be able to research information about ancestors that the tablet might have shared.
However, I do realize that information must be deleted eventually, otherwise we would not have enough server space. Just like in nature we die to make room for the young.

November 1, 2012 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Sunil Malhotra said...

This story deserves the Nobel Prize for Futurism and Storytelling. Brilliant stuff from a master. No less!!

November 21, 2012 at 2:03 AM  
Blogger swami shailendra said...

I wish this future was now.It seems very plausible.Please review the present state of technology including tablets and suggest how much of the vision can be realized today.

December 28, 2012 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger swami shailendra said...

A lot of parents I talked to are worried about children being able to access harmful sites.What is the solution?

December 28, 2012 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Nahuel said...

Even before starting to read the history, I dare to say that would be at age 2.
My son is 2 and a half and he has learned how to use it, to play, watch videos and listen to music.

I will read the entire story, and leave my opinion later.

February 27, 2013 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Viv said...

I found your blog through your TED talk and I'm intrigued by the concept of the Tablet, as education really is outdated, both in terms of what the students want to learn, and what they need to learn to be productive, employeable, successful human beings.

My only complaint is that Boomba deleted all of its info from the Cloud when Abu died. I think keeping Abu's grandchildren or great-grandchildren would enjoy knowing who he was, and feel we all benefit from connections between the generations (as you have the Granny school, I imagine you believe this, too). Maybe the Primes could include a journal function that did not disappear along with the original owner. It could end up being quite memory-intensive, of course, but then text is not nearly the memory-killer that images and media are. I think we could find room. Perhaps the journal could be an annual function, updated on birthdays or anniversaries.

March 20, 2013 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Viv said...

I found your blog through your TED talk and I'm intrigued by the concept of the Tablet, as education really is outdated, both in terms of what the students want to learn, and what they need to learn to be productive, employeable, successful human beings.

My only complaint is that Boomba deleted all of its info from the Cloud when Abu died. I think keeping Abu's grandchildren or great-grandchildren would enjoy knowing who he was, and feel we all benefit from connections between the generations (as you have the Granny school, I imagine you believe this, too). Maybe the Primes could include a journal function that did not disappear along with the original owner. It could end up being quite memory-intensive, of course, but then text is not nearly the memory-killer that images and media are. I think we could find room. Perhaps the journal could be an annual function, updated on birthdays or anniversaries.

March 20, 2013 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Bruce O'Leary said...

Like Sarah Hart, I could not help but think of Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" which was written over 20 years ago. Not only was that before the internet as we know it, it was long before the idea of One Laptop Per Child or even your first hole in the wall kiosk. But Neal foresaw the Granny Cloud paired with a device that sounds astoundingly similar to a tablet. If you tell me you haven't read it, I'll be shocked. However, if this is the case, you must rectify it immediately!

May 4, 2013 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Bruce O'Leary said...

Like Sarah Hart, I could not help but think of Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" which was written over 20 years ago. Not only was that before the internet as we know it, it was long before the idea of One Laptop Per Child or even your first hole in the wall kiosk. But Neal foresaw the Granny Cloud paired with a device that sounds astoundingly similar to a tablet. If you tell me you haven't read it, I'll be shocked. However, if this is the case, you must rectify it immediately!

May 4, 2013 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Deepak Kumar said...

Nice story unfolding our future!
Sugata, focus of your story is tablet. But to make the tablet do those amazing stuff, we need smart and intelligent software.
We have been working on such an intelligent technology for last couple of years and the results have been very encouraging.
I would request some time from you to do a web demonstration and seek your comments and advice.

October 10, 2013 at 11:26 PM  

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