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Co-designing inclusive and equitable intelligent systems with and for kids around the world

Published onMay 05, 2019
Co-designing inclusive and equitable intelligent systems with and for kids around the world

Equity in opportunities for child’s wellbeing is one of the core values that has been the focus of international organizations for child’s protection for a long period of time. While there are considerable advances in providing equal opportunities for children to reach their full potential and pursue their interests, talents and skills, inequity in education remains one of the biggest unsolved problem of our global society. With every new wave of technology comes the promise of revolutionizing education and the reality of access and usage divide. With the advent of AI in the home we recognize the need to design inclusive AI literacy programs that will prevent a new digital gap in children interaction with smart devices. Currently there are several initiative that aim to promote and standardize AI curriculum in K-12 (eg however children’s voices are not being included as part of this conversation. In order to ensure an equitable and inclusive AI education for kids around the world we recognize the importance of including young people in all stages of curriculum and interaction design. We compared how 102 children (7-12 years old), from four different countries (U.S.A, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden) imagine future smart companions and perceive current AI technologies. Children outside of U.S.A were overall more critical of these technologies and less exposed to them. The way children collaborated and communicated while describing their AI perception and expectations were influenced both by their social-economical and cultural background. Children in low and medium SES schools and centers were better are collaborating compared to high SES children, but had a harder time advancing because they had less experience with coding and interacting with these technologies. Children in high SES schools and centers had troubles collaborating initially but displayed a stronger understanding of AI concepts.

Design your AI companion activity with paper and LEGO during author’s study in an international school in Billund, Denmark in 2018

In addition to this, taking into consideration the importance of social interaction for child’s learning and development and the potential role of embodied AI, we have conducted a series of studies to investigate the ways in which social robotic agents should be designed to support equitable and inclusive learning opportunities for all children. We included children from various socio-cultural settings including children of different cognitive abilities and interests. Micro-genetic learning analyses of children’s developmental processes reveal children’s tendency for exploration as one of the catalytic stages for the emergence and development of advanced cognitive strategies. Our research has shown that during exploratory actions children follow different paths with each other and there is a variety in children’s need to be supported by a social agent. Taking into consideration children’s diversity is essential for the development of dynamic autonomous inclusive systems. Towards this end, we are suggesting design principles for the development of flexible autonomous agents that self-supervise in realistic physical environments by supporting human tendency for self-directed cognitive activities and the development of children’s creative thinking.

Playing with a social robot: author’s behavioural observation of child-robot and child-child social dynamics in a collaborative play activity (University of Twente, the Netherlands 2017

In either cases of cultural, geographical and cognitive diversity, our research indicates that children’s active involvement in the design and development of AI and robotic autonomous systems has a dual benefit; first, this is one of the ways to educate and provide children with the necessary skills and literacies for their current and future wellbeing in the era of AI; and second, by observing children interacting with intelligent systems in their play and learning and we gain a deeper understanding of child development and human nature, which in turn is taken into consideration for the design of autonomous intelligent systems in a child-centered way.

Example of drawings made by children (7-10 years old) from Denmark, Sweden, Germany and USA when asked to imagine their future AI companion. “Growing up with AI” S. Druga MIT Master Thesis, 2018.

For a systematic and effective way of developing equitable and inclusive intelligent systems, we ensure that children’s voice, as it is being revealed through our research, reaches the ears of various stakeholders, such as academia, industry, governmental and non-governmental institutions. The development of AI technologies that promote the basic values of equity and inclusion is a collective societal endeavour, which requires extensive and constructive collaborations. With this paper, we suggest a systemic bottom-up approach to co-design inclusive and equitable intelligent systems with and for kids around the world.


Stefania Druga is the creator of Cognimates, platform for AI education for families and a Ph.D candidate at the University of Washington. Her research on AI education started during her master in Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Lab. Currently, she is also a Weizenbaum research fellow in the Critical AI Lab and an assistant professor at NYU ITP and RISD, teaching graduate students how to hack smart toys for AI education. She co-founded Hackidemia, a global community for maker education present in 40 countries, Afrimakers, initiative for learning by solving global challenges in 10 African countries and MakerCamp , global camps for learning how to build and run maker spaces. During her research in the past two years, she has observed in longitudinal studies how 450 children from 7 countries are growing up with AI and how they can acquire AI literacy concepts through creative learning activities with the open source AI coding platform she has created.

Vicky Charisi is a Research Scientist at the Centre for Advanced Studies, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission with a focus on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on Human Behaviour with an expertise on Embodied AI and Child-Robot Interaction. Her research at the European Commission is connected with policy-making in the field of Education. Vicky has completed her Ph.D studies at the UCL, Institute of Education, London, UK with a focus on children’s musical creativity in digital contexts. She is currently leading cross-cultural research on Human-Robot Interaction in collaboration with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology AIST, Tokyo, in schools in Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria and she collaborates with the School of Design, University of Technology Sydney and the Honda Research Institute, Tokyo, Japan for the development of a domestic socially intelligent robot. She is a leading member of the International Consortium for Socially Intelligent Robotics, she has been listed as 1 of 100 women in AI Ethics for 2019 and she serves as a Chair at the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society for Cognitive and Developmental Systems TF Human-Robot Interaction (2019-2021).


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  11. UNICEF


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