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27 February, 2019 - 10:05 By Tony Quested

Arm prepares global youth for FutureWorld of RoboTech

Arm CEO Simon Segars was today lifting the lid on a new report commissioned by the Cambridge superchip architect which shows how young people around the world are engaging with and deploying increasingly advanced technology - and it shows they are ready to co-work with robots in FutureWorld.

Segars was telling Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that while some aspects of the new report concerned him as a parent, the over-riding message to come out of the YouthTech report was how positively young people were embracing technology for the greater good.

The Arm chief was being joined on stage by a number of the UK company’s youth ambassadors including Emma Yang, who has been coding since she was six-years-old and she has used that passion to create an app called Timeless that helps Alzheimer’s patients to stay connected with their families.

Also on stage was Avye Couloute who runs sponsored coding workshops and gives attendees of her ‘Girls into Coding’ event free computer kits. She recently won the Coolest Projects UK award for her voice command robot and has been selected for the Young Coders Conference to be held in London’s Tate Modern. She is only 11 years old!

They were joined by Samaira Mehta who has already found fame in Silicon Valley due to her keen interest in cybersecurity and, as an eight-year-old, developed a game called CoderBunnyz to teach other kids to code.

Arm’s report – Youth on Tech: Secret Accounts, Robot Teachers & Retiring at 73 – is a stunning, in-depth appraisal of young people’s use of technology and reflects the good and the bad in the absence of downright ugly!

Here’s some tasty stats from it:-

  • 47 per cent of 11-18-year olds have multiple online identities (70 per cent of 17-18-year olds)
  • 72 per cent of 11-12-year olds would like to invent a robot as intelligent as a human
  • 63 per cent of responders are happy for a robot to take care of their ageing parents

Segars says: “MWC has chosen the theme of Intelligent Connectivity this year. At face value, it is an obvious choice given the explosion of what I call the Fifth Wave of Computing i.e. the combined impact of IoT, AI and 5G.

“But for me it also speaks to an idea taking us beyond devices and data - it relates to how we must intelligently connect our thinking so the technologies we’re designing will create maximum positivity for the generations to come.

“A point made by my friend Dr Mary Aiken, an eminent cyber-psychologist and adviser on our Arm Gen 2Z program sums this up well: ‘Technology in itself is not good or bad – it is really a matter of how well, or not, it is designed for real-world human-use.’ 

“She was talking about the darker side of technology and the unintended consequences of giving humans the ability to connect almost without limits. Her thinking relates to the issue of young people becoming addicted to social media and engaging in potentially risky behaviours, such as setting up multiple online identities to hide their usage from friends and parents.

“I have spoken many times about the social contract with tech users that I think binds all technology companies to their responsibilities as digital innovators and that is now clearly coming to a head. MWC 2019 throws back the curtain on what the future holds in the form of 5G-capable smartphones and a host of devices with increasingly potent machine learning (ML) functionality and general compute abilities.

“As I have often said, the benefits of new technology vastly outweigh the negatives – to the extent that we almost don’t need to argue the point. But if we did, then MWC provides yet another eye-opening opportunity as no fewer than four of our Arm Gen 2Z ambassadors (aged 11-14) are joining me on stage during a keynote presentation on Day 3 today.

“All of our youth ambassadors are using technology in highly creative and positive ways. There’s no doubt the mobile computing revolution has changed society.

“It has connected people in new and exciting ways and inspired one of the most powerful business tools ever – the smartphone. But as any good developer will tell you, to get a design right you must first understand your audience – all of your audience – and that only comes from asking the tough questions.

“The desire for more information drove us, as one of the companies guiding the next wave of computing, to launch a new global survey of today’s tech-using youth. It was independently carried out by Northstar Research and supported by Mary Aiken.

“The findings range from interesting to downright disturbing, especially if you’re a parent like me. As an industry the tech sector is pushing multiple advanced technologies to maturity and making choices that will affect the generations following us. Collectively, we are taking our responsibilities very seriously – taking an ethical as well as an expert engineering approach to how technologies such as aI are delivered.

“As part of this effort we need to uncover the hidden impacts of the digital revolution so, as technology innovators, we can help mitigate potential downside effects. We also need to fully understand our youth’s increasing expectations of what technology will allow them to do. By understanding what they want we are better placed to deliver it.”

The Arm report shows that voice technologies are becoming increasingly popular with younger children who seem to prefer voice-activated devices to those with keyboards and touch screens. This is positive in terms of ease of engagement but it means that parental oversight is even more important as children can actively engage with internet connected technology earlier. Smartphone usage among young people is ubiquitous with 81 per cent using a device daily. A significant proportion are regularly online for more than an hour a day.

Sixty per cent of youths use a voice-activated product on a regular basis and for multiple purposes; 41 per cent said they used voice-activated devices for homework or general knowledge and a quarter to get news.

The report shows that 47 per cent of youths have multiple accounts on at least one social media platform. This rises to 70 per cent for 17-18 year olds. This multiple identity culture allows youths to be more experimental online and to have many different identities. Reinforcing the notion of a need for secrecy Arm found that 41 per cent of young people wanted secret accounts that no-one knew about and 44 per cent wanted accountants that only a few select friends were aware of.

The excessive use of social media is polarising today’s youth, the report found. While they see the benefit of having fun and being connected they also see the darker side of bullying and addiction, Yet addictive high usage persists.

Negative feelings towards technology run deep among 15-18 year olds who acknowledge a number of negative effects yet it is this age group primarily driving the increase in social media by youths.

Given the admissions of lower self esteem, anxiety and feelings of addiction reported at higher levels in this age group it would be highly useful to conduct further research on the advice this group would give to younger users and whether they would recommend more self-limiting online behaviour at a younger age, Dr Aiken observes.

The report adds that today’s youth are benefiting from technological innovation that is more powerful than any generation previously has witnessed. They recognise the value that technologies such as the Cloud, AI and Augmented Reality can deliver but are also scared about some dangerous elements of the advance of robotics.

Young adults are significantly more negative about the potential downside risks of advanced technology than their younger contemporaries.

Today’s young people believe the two most important subjects to study in the future will be Computer Science and AI. Joint third are Mathematics and Robotic Engineering.

However our youth populations don’t just see technology as part of the curriculum; they see it as a platform to deliver education as well, including the use of robotic teachers: 73 per cent of youths internationally expect to see robot teachers in schools within 50 years and 46 per cent say within the next two decades. 

Youths believe technology advancement will create more opportunities for new kinds of jobs, notably 11-12 yr olds.

Most youths seem happy that in future world they will be co-workers, customers, patients and passengers of the world’s new robotic workforce.

There is some concern about how AI will be used, for example to sell goods over the phone. Youths are demanding more transparency with robots forced to declare themselves when it may not be obvious. This was considered particularly important in sensitive areas such as giving medical advice; 89 per cent of young people surveyed felt that at some point talking with a human or a robot would be indistinguishable; 59 per cent felt this could be the case within the next 10 years.

The results indicate that young people want to interact with socially beneficial robots and support the creation of robots to help people deal with loneliness and care for the elderly. There is some concern about robots being used as medical doctors and respondents preferred the option of augmenting GPS with robotic and/or AI devices.

Another potential robotics innovation area is human enhancement. Tesla founder Elon Musk argues we are “already cyborgs” because we use “machine extensions” of ourselves such as smartphones and computers. But in the future, he thinks there will be “a greater integration between man and machine, specifically altering our brains with technology to make them more computer-like.”

Young people tend to agree with Musk, seeing technology enhancement as something that might become commonplace in the way that plastic surgery is today.

Not only do youths see technological enhancement for humans as possible, they seem captivated by the idea. Around 60 per cent of respondents say they’re more excited than concerned about robotic-style enhancements offered to people who want to boost their natural abilities. This positivity is strongest among younger children, with 68 per cent of 11-12-year olds “excited” by the prospect of human robotic enhancements as opposed to 51 per cent of 17-18-year olds.

Whether robots replace doctors or humans veer towards a cyborg existence, emerging technologies have the potential to have a profound impact on human health. Youths recognise this with 63 per cent expecting to live healthier lives than their parents.

This is reflected in expectations for the average human lifespan in 50 years’ time, with an average prediction of 93 years old agreed by survey respondents. There are many reasons to think that this may be achievable by 2070 if the potential for biotechnology, nanotechnology and technology-enhanced precision medicine is realised. However, young people recognised there would be ripple effects to living longer which was reflected in their expectation that the average retirement age could increase to 73 years old.

This elevated retirement age would still give people retiring in 2070 many more years of healthy living than people can expect today. And if Arm’s survey respondents are right and robotic enhancements do become commonplace, then who knows what we all might achieve in those twilight years.

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