“How they react and treat this nonhuman entity is, to me, the biggest question,” said Sandra Calvert, a Georgetown University psychologist and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center. “And how does that subsequently affect family dynamics and social interactions with other people?”
With an estimated 25 million voice assistants expected to sell this year at $40 to $180 — up from 1.7 million in 2015 — there are even ramifications for the diaper crowd.
Toy giant Mattel recently announced the birth of Aristotle, a home baby monitor launching this summer that “comforts, teaches and entertains” using AI from Microsoft. As children get older, they can ask or answer questions. The company says, “Aristotle was specifically designed to grow up with a child.”
Boosters of the technology say kids typically learn to acquire information using the prevailing technology of the moment — from the library card catalogue, to Google, to brief conversations with friendly, all-knowing voices. But what if these gadgets lead children, whose faces are already glued to screens, further away from situations where they learn important interpersonal skills?
“We like to ask her a lot of really random things,” said Emerson Labovich, a fifth-grader in Bethesda, Md., who pesters Alexa with her older brother Asher. [...]
Yarmosh’s 2-year-old son has been so enthralled by Alexa that he tries to speak with coasters and other cylindrical objects that look like Amazon’s device. Meanwhile, Yarmosh’s now 5-year-old son, in comparing his two assistants, came to believe Google knew him better.
In a blog post last year, a California venture capitalist wrote that his 4-year-old daughter thought Alexa was the best speller in the house. “But I fear it’s also turning our daughter into a raging a------,” Hunter Walk wrote. “Because Alexa tolerates poor manners.”
To ask her a question, all you need to do is say her name, followed by the query. No “please.” And no “thank you” before asking a follow-up.
“Cognitively I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around but not a person,” Walk wrote. “At the very least, it creates patterns and reinforcement that so long as your diction is good, you can get what you want without niceties.”