According to experts, voice technology might have a long-term effect on people’s capacity for empathy, compassion, and critical thought.
Scientists believe that voice assistants, such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, may have long-term effects on children’s social and cognitive development, particularly their capacity for empathy, compassion, and critical thought.
The technology has been witnessing a significant rise in recent years, with many tech giants releasing their own version of voice assistants with benefits that are hard to resist, including reading bedtime stories, teaching kids essential skills, and even being a conversation partner if needed.
However, now experts are doubting that such tactics are worth the potential danger voice assistants could impose on children growing up.
“The multiple impacts on children include inappropriate responses, impeding social development and hindering learning opportunities,” Anmol Arora, co-author of an article published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, told The Guardian.
Children attribute human traits and behaviors to machines that, in Arora’s words, are “essentially a list of trained words and sounds mashed together to make a sentence.”
The devices are anthropomorphised by the kids, who then imitate them by not changing their intonation, volume, emphasis, or tone. Another problem is that the machines don’t automatically teach kids to say please or thank you, the expert stated, potentially affecting the child’s compassion.
In addition, the kinds of questions that devices can answer are likewise restricted. As a result, according to Arora, a researcher in the department of clinical medicine at Cambridge University, youngsters will acquire very specific types of questions that always take the form of a demand.
It can also be difficult to distinguish between various accents.
“If a child is particularly young, they might well not be able to pronounce particular words properly and then there’s a risk their words might be misinterpreted and they’re exposed to something inappropriate,” he added, giving the example of an online challenge that required a 10-year-old girl to touch a live electrical outlet with a penny.
“These devices don’t understand what they’re saying,” he said. “All they’re doing is regurgitating some information in response to a narrow query, which it might have misunderstood anyway, without any real understanding of safety or who’s listening to it.”
Dr. Dám Miklósi, the author of a recent study demonstrating how children’s use of smartphones and tablets “rewires” their brains in ways that have long-term implications, told The Guardian that more needs to be done to persuade businesses to take the problem seriously.
“At the moment, these devices are very primitive because the people who develop them don’t care about human interaction or their impact on children’s development,” he said.
“They know how adults use these devices but the way children use them, and the impact they have on children, is very different.”
In his opinion, expensive research is needed as well as ethical guidelines for their use by children to ensure their safety and prevent any damage to personality.
Meanwhile, others believe the threat is not a need for concern. Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick, the Canada Research Chair in Digital Media Use by Children and Its Implications for Promoting Togetherness: An Ecosystemic Approach, was one of them.
To her, parental guidance could suppress any dangers and ensure the safety of children.
“A child who was already timid or who spent too much time on their device might develop lower quality social skills and social competence than their peers, as well as difficulty using basic politeness formulations and poor non-verbal communication skills – such as interrupting and not making eye contact,” she told The Guardian.
“But as long as parents keep to the recommended limits for children, and they’re getting a healthy amount of interaction from their caregivers and peers, then I don’t think there should be cause for alarm,” she added.