Experts warn that AI assistants are affecting children's social growth

Experts warn that AI assistants are affecting children’s social growth

The likes of Google Assistant and Alexa have been the source of privacy concerns for some time now, but they continue to make inroads into millions of homes. But it seems that they could also have a negative impact on the growth of children with regard to their psychosocial development and the acquisition of basic skills.

According to expert analysis from the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, interaction with AI assistants affects children in three ways. The barrier to learning opportunities begins at the bottom of the chain.

AI assistants made by Amazon, Apple, and Google continue to improve at a frightening rate, and year after year their ability to get relevant answers from the web is also growing. With such ease at their disposal, experts believe the traditional process of hunting and absorbing knowledge has taken a back seat.

The real problem here is that when kids ask an older person a question, whether it’s their parents or their teachers, they’re often asked about the context and reasoning behind their request. Moreover, when a person searches for an answer, he develops a critical approach as well as logical reasoning to analyze the right kind of information and the scope of his imagination also widens.

A hell of bad information

“Children have a poor understanding of how information is retrieved from the Internet, where the Internet is stored, and the limits of the Internet,” the report said. With such a chain of faith placed on the internet, it becomes much easier for young minds to absorb false information.

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John Velasco/Digital Trends

The cesspool of misinformation plaguing the internet needs no introduction, and platforms continue to struggle to contain it, but AI assistants are making matters worse. A 2021 Stanford research project found that the likes of Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri provide a different set of responses and search results related to health queries. Adults can be trusted to make informed decisions in such a scenario, but children are at extremely high risk here.

Alexa can’t teach courtesy

Next comes social stunting. Human-to-human conversations help refine social etiquette and allow children to learn how to behave appropriately in the world. Chatting with a digital assistant does not offer this privilege.

In a nutshell, AI assistants provide a poor path to learning social interactions, despite advances such as natural language processing and Google’s LaMDA innovation. Google Assistant can talk to you naturally just like another person, but it can’t teach kids manners and train them to behave like decent human beings.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

For example, there’s no incentive to learn polite terms like “please” when talking to a virtual assistant living inside a puck-sized speaker, and there are also no constructive comments possible. In the times of the pandemic we live in, the scope of real human interactions has shrunk even further, posing an even greater risk to the social development of young minds.

Finally, there is the problem of inappropriate responses. Not all guardians have the digital skills to set strict boundaries around software parental controls. This risks exposing children to content that is not age-appropriate and could lead them directly to harmful information that could be dangerous. According to a 2021 BBC report, Amazon’s Alexa once put the life of a 10-year-old child at risk by daring him to touch a live part of a circuit with a metal coin.

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