What are Voice-Based Personal Assistants Doing to Our Kids?
Alexa, Amazon Echo, Google Home, all artificially intelligent devices built to make human lives more efficient, and frankly, far more entertaining. There’s just one catch: these devices were created with the likes of teenagers and adults in mind, not children. Okay, fine, so what’s the issue? The reality is that children love Alexa. They love their mom or dad’s Echo. They love the Google Home that sits on the window sill in their home.
Sure, devices like Alexa are fun and often useful. They interact with users by amusing us with answers to our obscure inquiries, like how far away is the moon? They even tell us jokes and remind us when to give our pets their flea and tick medicine. Kids can get in on the fun, too. They can ask Alexa all sorts of questions and receive a wide variety of interesting responses. It’s when these interactions take an awkward or uncomfortable turn that the real impact of AI on kids becomes clear.
Human Versus Non-Human
We’ve all heard the stories of kids accidentally buying items via their parents voice-based personal assistant, be it a $400 couch or perhaps a new toy for themselves. After many incidents of this kind, companies like Amazon are taking steps to correct this issue. However, one corrective task remains: helping children recognize the difference between a human versus a non-human interaction. Of course, most kids could look at an Amazon Echo and say, “that’s not a human.” However, it’s the behavior with which they engage with AI devices that are becoming more and more of a problem. With Alexa, users can be blunt, short, to the point; we can even call her “stupid” and receive and humorous comeback.
With humans, this type of behavior is less than amusing. People require more complex interactions, ones that take into consideration their feelings and perceptions. By increasing the number of time children spend interacting with devices, the ability to effectively communicate with real people becomes less apparent.
New Ways of Learning
Not all interactions with AI devices are harmful, though. Some argue that devices like Alexa or the Amazon Echo have opened up a new way of learning and otherwise receiving information. They may have perhaps even made our children more curious, especially if they know they can receive feedback almost instantaneously. Voice-based assistants can also provide an opportunity for families to be curious together by asking questions to their devices and then discussing or laughing over the responses they receive. Instead of family game night, it’s like family Alexa night.
Devices Built for Kids
In the end, in response to many concerns related to AI devices, many companies who create them have taken steps to deliver content specifically tailored to the minds of children. More so, some companies, like Amazon, have even gone so far as to make their devices verbally reward children who are polite during their interactions. While some continue to claim that the tailoring of devices to children perpetuates device addiction in youth, these virtual assistants are likely here to stay, and children will continue to enjoy their witty banter and expansive knowledge. Perhaps it’s better, then, to get ahead of the game by figuring out ways to teach children proper communication via electronic devices than it is to try and eliminate them from kids’ lives altogether.