SciFi Kids
© Getty
November 2022

SciFi Kids

By Annika Bach und Clarissa Schmitt
How are demographic change and technological progress going to change the family system? Together with the specialists at Z_punkt foresight consultancy SOS Children’s Village Hamburg ventured an outlook for the year 2070, outlining some eminently provocative future scenarios to encourage related discussions.
Future scenario: “120 Plus”
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In 2070, the average life expectancy of populations in affluent nations amounts to 120 years, and for 2100, it is predicted to be 135 years. Prosperity in such countries allows many people to benefit from geriatric therapies enabling them to enjoy a longer and healthier life. Policymakers promote such therapies through funding support to counteract the effects of a shrinking population on the economic system. People’s lives change radically: Retirement age is raised to 87, and younger people are afforded more time for schooling and professional education to optimally prepare for a career based on a multi-perspective approach. Medical progress prolongs fertility, and more and more women focused on their professional careers have children increasingly later in life. Women typically have their first child at age 50 or 60.

What does that mean for children? Children spend more years of their lives with their families than they used to in the aughts. The average age of children moving out of their parents’ home is 30. Due to longer periods of schooling and professional education, their development can be promoted in more personalized ways, and there is more time for foreign and other exchange programs.

What does that mean for families? The parent-child relationship changes. The longer life span and state of health enjoyed by parents, grandparents and great-grandparents enhances the potential of sustaining family traditions and reviving extended family histories.

Future scenario: “Classroom in motion”
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In 2070, hydrogen-powered, autonomous pods are a popular means of transportation. Especially parents of young children like summoning them to safely haul their kids from A to B rather than having them travel on public means of transportation. Despite the opportunities available in virtual realities, experiences in the real world continue to be highly valued – children are frequently out and about, getting together at school or in their free time. Field trips with practical experiences are important elements of curricula.

Many services offer special pods focused on children: Examples include comfortable seating for kids and a large offering of child-oriented entertainment. In addition, the pods can feature personalized styling, for instance in terms of colors and digital decoration of interior walls, enabling children to feel at home and comfortable in them almost like in their own rooms. Smart-controlled lighting and musical design elements additionally make parents feel that their children are in good hands and well cared for.

What does that mean for children? Even young children enjoy ample freedom of movement and may travel on their own to visit friends. Due to the positive and familiar atmosphere in the pods, kids like roaming around and going to new places. Mood optimization makes for plenty of pleasant days and positive experiences but may prevent children from truly acting out and processing their emotions.

What does that mean for families? As a result of autonomous pods, parents relinquish a lot of control and promote their children’s independence early on while gaining time in daily life that they can spend more freely with their children at other times. In some parents, the mood optimization feature for children raises unrealistic expectations that may result in pressure to perform or in toxic positivity.

Future scenario: “Edu Bot”
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In 2070, Edu Bots are wide-spread and socially accepted. The traditional idea of family began to dissolve as far back as in the 2050s when Edu Bots emerged, ushering in a dissolution of classic parent-child relationships. Established as far back as at the end of the 19th century, socio-pedagogical principles focused on parenting, education and government intervention have continued to evolve into the year 2070. Now the role of raising and educating children no longer needs to be assumed solely by parents and educators. As additional educators that can support established pedagogical concepts according to the parents’ choice, Edu Bots assist in performing the parenting and educational mission. Child development is promoted individually as needed, enabling kids to get their bearings in an increasingly complex world. As a result, all children have equal opportunities for a self-determined life, irrespective of their personal starting bases. A heretofore unknown form of freedom exists for both parents and children.

What does that mean for children? On the one hand, children can enjoy a highly personalized form of development and new opportunities of a kind that a lived-in world without Edu Bots could not offer. On the other hand, children may be subjected to massive control and performance pressures because a large part of their daily life is being tracked for personalizing the developmental activities of the bots. In some children, this may lead to developmental disorders because extensive periods of time spent with an Edu-Bot can slow their pace of learning to understand human emotions and facial expressions.

What does that mean for families? Edu-Bots redefine parenting and educational patterns. Parents are no longer performing the key parenting and educational roles, which results in a clearly diminished level of interacting with their children. The resulting frictional losses also entail a loss of attachment, with the diminished dependency of kids on their parents leading to increasing alienation. Consequently, the “substitution” of parents by Edu-Bots weakens parent-child attachment.

Future scenario: “Offline Village”
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Subjectively, the whole world in 2070 is constantly online, and the physical world is permeated by digital levels. Even the human body has become a cyber-physical system that has been optimized and interconnected by a variety of implants. When such corporeal interventions became normal in the 2050s, more and more long-standing anti-digital movements chose to establish their own colonies and social systems emphasizing interpersonal relationships and unity with nature. They deal with new technologies mainly to keep them out of their villages and as enablers for cutting off their connection potential by means of their filters.

Even so, such communities are not completely isolated – they are tolerated socially and politically, and supported in their efforts to provide their residents with high quality of life and to implement their own educational models, for example. In addition, the villages welcome all visitors seeking to try out a life according to their values or desiring to take a digital break.

What does that mean for children? Children in Offline Villages grow up in completely different ways than those in the rest of society. Without the wide-spread implants, they differ even physically. Due to the village visitors, they are keenly aware of such differences, which is difficult to cope with for some of them. Should they decide to leave their village as adults, they often have problems integrating themselves with the digital world.

What does that mean for families? Family relationships within and outside of Offline Villages may vary significantly as a result of being affected by the presence or absence of a variety of technologies and implants. In some families, the differences between life within and outside of the villages causes disputes between parents and children about which is the better life model.

Future scenario: “Reality Filter”
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In 2070, highly developed mixed and digital realities exist in which almost anything is possible. People spend a lot of time there to experience and discover new things. That is exciting especially for children, and they love being there all day and roaming around in the real world. However, there are many things they should not be seeing yet or that are difficult to understand – in digital worlds, for instance, it may be hard to know what is normal or realistic. Reality Filters protect children from hazardous or overwhelming experiences so that they can safely embark on discovery tours without being accompanied by an adult.

Many parents rely on this technology and it is largely accepted. A large part of society agrees on the specifications of what should be filtered or shown at what age. Designated expert councils review and update the recommended settings regularly, and parents can tighten or loosen the programming within an established framework to support their own parenting philosophy.

What does that mean for children? Children can explore the real as well as the mixed and digital worlds much more independently and pursue their personal interests. Because hazardous or troubling elements are filtered out kids can be carefree and live in an “ideal” world. On the down side, though, some children will have a harder time coping with such issues when being confronted with them at a more advanced age.

What does that mean for families? Reality Filters directly and unnoticeably implement many things that might otherwise be subject to dispute as rules or bans. As a result, parents are less intensively engaged in an actively perceived parenting role. At the same time, children have no means of circumventing the filter settings so that their idea of reality is specified by their parents’ filter configuration.

Future world: “Resilience Kid”
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The effects of climate change make human life on the planet nearly impossible in many places. Regional requirements for adapting to climate change enabling a trouble-free life vary. “Resilience Kid” is a costly way chosen primarily by parents with the requisite financial means seeking to provide and secure a carefree and livable future for their children. Genetic or technological modifications made before or right after birth make it possible for their children to live comfortably in harsh conditions. Due to continuous innovation and adaptation of such solutions to new climatic change challenges, children are often better adapted than their parents. The process is very expensive and performed primarily in the Global North. NGOs campaign for making such assistance available to all children.

What does that mean for children? Children are modified in terms of character traits before or shortly after birth, thus experiencing an intervention with their innate abilities and personality. Inequality between kids increases massively and is linked to the affluence of their families. “Resilience Kids” have a longer life expectancy and higher certainty of enjoying better quality of life by birth but are born with a high level of responsibility for their families.

What does that mean for families? The responsibility of parents for their children grows massively. Even before their children are born, they must provide for the safety of their children. Family and child planning often depend on whether parents can afford the modification opportunities. In addition, many families depend on the modified abilities of their children to remain viable. Children increasingly secure their families’ livelihood which, in some cases, results in a reversal of the parent-child relationship.