Artificial Intelligence and Family Dynamics





How does communication with artificially intelligent devices affect childhood development, and their family’s relationship dynamics? Today, it is hard to find a household that is not connected to the internet. Over the last few years, in many homes, this connectivity has become easier to access and more hands off with the integration of voice assistants such as Amazon's Echo, Google Home and the new Mattel Aristotle. What are the capabilities of these devices? What do they offer and/or take away from our family interactions? And how are they affecting our children?

These new voice assistants offer a whole new world to technological connectivity. With simple voice commands you are able to check the weather, plan events, send emails, listen to music and much more. Great for a busy adult, but what about for the children? Today, children are less likely to be able to recall information. Because we have all the information in the world at our finger tips, we have no need to retain that information. And now, simply say the words "Ok Google" or "Alexa" and you don't even have to look it up yourself. “We used to rely on friends and family members for this method of memory out sourcing. Remembering who knew what rather than the information itself. But now, Google is the friend with all the expertise.” Before we would ask our parents, or even older siblings, questions we didn't know the answers to. We lose these connections and trust in those people around us because we have something that is more reliable. By relying on these devices we begin to lose the personal connection with those around us.

There are many concerns that parents seem to have with these devices. Ranging from their children are beginning to show signs of bad manners, to the type of information their children are exposed to. According to Hunter Walk's Blog post "you see, the prompt command to activate the Echo is "Alexa..." not "Alexa, please." And Alexa doesn't require a 'thank you' before its ready to perform another task." With out these niceties, like please and thank you, our children are learning and establishing patterns that you don't need manners if you have good diction. By having these devices that are connected to the cloud, their seemingly infinite knowledge sparks curiosity in kids. Unfortunately, unable to pick up on emotional responses, it allows kids to not have to use manners. One of the biggest concerns is how children treat nonhuman entities, and how that affects their development. For younger children, sometimes it is hard to understand what they are saying. For some, this just gets them the reply that they weren't understood, but for one young boy who only wanted to hear a song it was a whole other story. The young boy requests a song from Alexa but her response was a series of profanities and sexually explicit words. Now it's unclear whether this was a response made due to previously searched items or because that is what the device thought it heard to search the internet for. Either way, parents are calling for a kid friendly device with better features directed to them and if this isn't possible, "should children be growing up with digital assistants?”

Not all devices are bad. Mattel's Aristotle can only be used if the child is polite. Starting from a young age, this bridges the gap for kids growing up with AI devices and maintaining their manners, as well as enabling safe connected environments. Aristotle is like Alexa on baby-safe steroids. It is a digital assistant made to actually “grow up alongside the child”. As a baby, the device functions as a night-light, white noise emitter, and it comes with a camera that doubles up as a baby monitor. Through an app, parents are able to watch their kids remotely. The camera is able to recognize when the baby wakes up, and will soothe it back to sleep via lullaby. It also logs diaper use and can order diapers and baby formula among other things through participating stores. Along with all of these features, it teaches kids numbers, the alphabet, and as they get older, other languages. At this stage, it is capable of reading kids stories and playing games, some of which utilize the interactive camera. They are able to play with Aristotle, using Microsoft’s cloud network, to play guessing games where the kid holds up an object to the camera and the device identifies it. One incredible function is that Aristotle can monitor whether or not children have done their chores, and remain deactivated until their chores are complete. In that same vein, it can override the T.V. so it cannot be turned on until chore completion. What may be of most importance is that Aristotle can be programmed so that it will only work if the child is being polite. This may be what bridges the gap for future generations growing up with AI devices to maintain manners. Some people would criticize families that utilize this tool. Saying that it's giving parents a reason to be disconnected and allowing devices to parent their children, but Senior Manager of Marketing and Communication’s Lisa Lee states “Aristotle is not supposed to parent, but rather to offer tools to make the parent’s job easier.” Like for those busy parents that work two jobs and need that extra time to sleep instead of getting up in the middle of the night to rock the baby back to sleep.

Like most everything, especially technology, there are pros and cons. People are always going to find faults in anything. But it is nice to see that the industry is listening. They are willing to take in the feedback from consumers and provide versions of these voice assistants that are kid friendly. Andrew Sayer (2006) states, “How we treat one another is more important than the dimensions of the social field" (p14). We treat these devices as though they are a part of the family. Like the boy in the video above coming back in to say goodbye to his friend. But still we have to be careful of our attachment to them. As a human race, we have an overwhelming need for companionship. Although great, these little devices could never replace an emotional connection. They are great tools of information but not companions. We don't want to end up like the civilization in the video below.

Beware!





Sources:

Hollister, Sean, and David Priest. "Mattel Aristotle is an Amazon Echo that understands your kids, too." Cnet.com. N.p., 4 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.cnet.com/products/aristotle-by-nabi/preview/>.

Pradeep Reddy Sama. "Awesome technology great invention home gadget for family coming up "Google HOME"." YouTube. YouTube, 22 May 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSp0P6TN7WQ>.

Quirk, Mary Beth. "Alexa Has Very Explicit Response To Toddler’s Seemingly Innocent Song Request." Consumerist. N.p., 30 Dec. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://consumerist.com/2016/12/30/alexa-has-very-explicit-response-to-toddlers-seemingly-innocent-song-request/>.

Roadshowmovies. "Humans Trailer." YouTube. YouTube, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV8qFeZxZPE>.
Rosenwald, Michael S. "How millions of kids are being shaped by know-it-all voice assistants." The Washington Post. WP Company, 02 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-millions-of-kids-are-being-shaped-by-know-it-all-voice-assistants/2017/03/01/c0a644c4-ef1c-11e6-b4ff-ac2cf509efe5_story.html?utm_term=.ce87728b73b7>.

Walk, Hunter. "Amazon Echo Is Magical. It’s Also Turning My Kid Into an Asshole." Hunter Walk. N.p., 06 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <https://hunterwalk.com/2016/04/06/amazon-echo-is-magical-its-also-turning-my-kid-into-an-asshole/>.