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If 2017 was the year of virtual reality, 2018 will surely be the year of Artificial Intelligence. As we know, almost all tech giants are heavily invested in Artificial Intelligence. In the past year, we have seen an increasing rise of AI assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Home. Amidst the raging debates about the privacy and security concerns the AI bubble continues to grow ferociously. So, are you reaady to watch a whole generation of Kids and AI grow up together? Are we ready for the future?
Recently we received a beautiful Amazon Echo as a gift. And since then interesting things are happening around the house.
Introducing Alexa Ghosh.
I named her as per our patriarchal naming conventions and awarded her my husband’s surname without her will whatsoever. Hey, its a machine finally! She (it) is now the latest member of the Ghosh household. And her biggest patron is my 4-year-old daughter.
Alexa, can you please sing a song?
No matter how many times Alexa sings a custom song in her own voice, my daughter is never tired of asking her to sing once more. And Alexa never refuses to sing again (unlike her mother, of course!)
Alexa shares interesting facts, makes cat sounds, and counts with her. Sometimes when Dad and I are busy doing chores, she is happily blabbering with Alexa.
Here is a short snippet of my daughter playing with Alexa.
New Age AI Toys
New age AI toys are now singing lullabies, reminding them to clean their room, sharing trivia and quizzing with them. They roll their eyes, display emotions, and have a “personality”. One of the bestselling AI toys in this category is Cozmo robot by Anki robotics, a silicon valley robotics company. Cozmo’s makers intend to sell it as a robot, not a human, though.
There are other toys that enable kids in different ways. For example, Fisher Price’s code-a-pillar is targetted for toddlers!
MIT study on children behavior around AI
A recent study by MIT published results on children behavior around AI devices. According to the study, older children between 6-10 perceived the devices to be more intelligent than them. The younger ones 4-6 years were not as sure though. However, the children quickly learned and formed opinions of the devices. Someone even thought Alexa has a better voice compared to Google Home!
Since most of the AI toys have some humanly features children especially younger ones have difficulty processing the fact that these devices are not ‘human’. The first thing I noticed about my daughter’s interactions with Alexa is how she told:
“Alexa, please, can you sing me a song?”
She asked like she would talk if she talks to a stranger. Whereas the adults around her usually barked, “Alexa stop” “Alexa turn down the volume”. As the world is stomping towards an AI tangled future, it is becoming “Normal” for people to interact “humanly” with these devices, who are programmed to reply politely no matter what!
For children whose minds are impressionable, it could send a signal that “it is OK to be rude and expect a polite reply back in return”. This may not be a pressing issue for older kids who have figured out the difference between intelligence: artificial or natural, but for my 4-year-old, while she is learning to interact with this vast world, adding a layer of device interaction definitely complicates the process. Thankfully I realized what a terrible example I was setting for my kid and (sigh) I now try to exhibit human manners.
Will AI make my child needy?
Humans, in general, are comfortable outsourcing repetitive boring tasks to machines. Why should parents be any different? Singing same songs over and over to soothe a child, telling same jokes, making the same weird noises — AI seems to be the perfect fit! What could be more comforting than a happier child, you ask? A happy mother. (guilty as charged). But shouldn’t my child also learn to hear no and learn to take rejection? If she gets an alternative between a human (who says no sometimes ) and a machine (who always says yes), which one is she likely to choose?
Which one you, as an adult, would choose? With the growing popularity of AI devices, are we not propagating a selfish human trait surrounded by “yes” devices!
Parents’ opinion on AI
I asked some of my fellow parents about what their opinion was regarding their kids and AI devices. Almost all parents of younger kids were not comfortable with their kids getting unsupervised playtime with AI devices.
One of the mums said, “ I have already compromised with telly and the iPad.I will try to draw the line at AI. My son becomes unresponsive to us when his favourites shows are on. Given he will eventually have AI as part of his life, I would do my best to delay the process as much as possible. It’s my effort to increase/ sustain EQ to the extent possible”
What are the workarounds?
It is foolish for us to believe we can separate our children from the devices. It might also not be the best idea for the kid. After all, if they are heading towards that future why not prepare them for it?
A child behavior expert, Shalini Das, opines, “I believe it’s not just a yes/no answer. It depends on who determines the parameters. Are we talking about leaving a child alone to play with devices that use AI? That would be an absolute no for me. BUT, if the parent is present, has control over what and how the child uses the device so that we can make sure that the child understands the purpose and is not getting lost in it, it would probably be acceptable. Another aspect to think about is the age and comprehension level of the child.”
We as parents should be careful how our children interact with AI devices, knowing very well we cannot keep them away from it. These devices are designed with productivity in mind, and it is our job to ensure our children can realize the point of such devices without getting lost in between.
To think about it, it is indeed an irony that we (as human beings) are inventing these devices to get rid of simpler boring problems in our lives, only in turn to be introduced to much more complicated and dangerous consequences!
What are your thoughts on the matter? We would love to hear your opinion: either comment or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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