Dreaming of an AI Christmas - fun hi-tech activities for kids during the Christmas holidays

This special time of year is indeed magical. Of course, technology is playing an important part: AI is giving the personality to Father Christmas, who is answering millions of questions online, while complex algorithms track Santa's journey throughout the night


The world's population is rising rapidly, and just this year, Father Christmas needs to deliver no less than 2.1 billion presents in one evening. He will fly at a speed of 1280 miles per second and spend one millisecond in each of the 842 million households. Not a simple deed, especially for a man of his age. So how can we all help Santa in this epical feat?

First of all, I am sure many children are asking a million and one questions about Santa. Parents try to give them a reasonable answer even though let's face it; we can't explain the magic behind it. So why not get the old-man himself to answer? AskSanta (https://asksanta.com) is an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered chatbot which is ready to satisfy the queries of those little curious minds. Even the most difficult ones! All you have to do is register for free and start asking questions. It's rather fun, and Santa is there to answer anything you want. 

Second, it takes quite some effort to convince today's kids. They understand technology better than some of us. Here is where personalisation can help. Portable North Pole (https://www.portablenorthpole.com) provides free mobile or video calls directly from Santa. He will not only call your child with his first name but also relate something that happened to him. Remember, he also knows if he's been bad or good! In fact, through this service, the child can receive countless messages encouraging the child to improve his behaviour, congratulating him for a great job or even reminding him of Santa's visit to his house. 

Third, on Christmas eve, children might want to track Santa's journey across the globe. There are various programs to help you do that. The most famous two are the Google Santa Tracker (https://santatracker.google.com) and the Official NORAD Santa Tracker (https://www.noradsanta.org). They use some advanced technologies such as radars, satellites and jet fighters to track the movement of the flying sleigh. Although both systems are somewhat accurate,  they cannot predict precisely when Santa will visit each house.  However, as a general rule of thumb, if children are still awake when Santa arrives, he moves on to other homes. He returns later, but only when the children are asleep! Up till Christmas eve, these websites also offer various free games and educational activities. These include a Santa Selfie, Elf Maker, Penguine Dash, Build & Bolt, Map Quiz, Santa's Canvas and much more.

Fourth, once the kids are asleep, grownups will do their utmost to gather proof of Santa's visit. So far, it mainly consisted of discovering new presents under the tree, an empty glass of milk, bitten carrots and cookie crumbs all over the place. Unfortunately, it is somewhat circumstantial evidence for today's kids. Our technology has not advanced enough to capture Santa's visit (which only lasts 1 ms), until this year! Parents can now download an app called "Santa Was Here" (https://tinyurl.com/AI-Christmas-SWH) which makes use of your mobile device to capture a movie of Santa placing presents next to your own Christmas Tree. The technology behind it is called Augmented Reality (AR) and makes use of the camera system on your mobile device to place virtual objects over the real world. 

Finally, the real magic of Christmas does not happen when we receive the presents, but only if we manage to touch someone's heart. It is even more powerful when we help someone in need whom we don't even know! And this year, there's a web application for this called Gran's Post Office (https://tinyurl.com/GranPostOffice).

Kids only need to write or draw a heart-warming message for an older person (whom they don't know). Then they take a photo of the message and upload it on the website. The elves on the other side will get all of those electronic messages, print them out on paper and deliver them to all those elderly who will be passing a lonely Christmas. Like that, they will know that they're no longer lonely because someone thought about them. 

As you can see, this special time of year is indeed magical. Of course, technology is playing an important part. AI is giving the personality to the Father Christmas, who is answering millions of questions online. It is personalising the mobile and video calls. Complex algorithms track Santa's journey throughout the night. Augmented Reality is allowing you to take a photo of him in your living room and computer systems are managing the elaborate mailing room of the Gran's Post Office.

But we don't need to wait for modern technology to do good. Use a telephone and give-a-shout to the relative you seldom call. Share a smile with your invisible neighbours. A simple greeting or even a phone call can go a long way to free these people from the spectre of loneliness. So, ask yourself whether there is someone who needs your help and begin to change the world, starting from your own backyard, one person at a time. 

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful New Year full of health, love, peace and joy. 

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