AI is changing the way we live. Virtual assistants giving us new ways to shop, self-driving cars promising us new commuting options, and bots assisting in the workplace show companies applying AI to a range of industries to drive innovation and optimize workflows. But the world of AI received a sobering dose of reality recently with the first pedestrian death caused by a driverless car.
When adults observe the shift toward an AI-driven world, attitudes within the older generations are becoming more fearful. Polling company Gallup found that people are now citing AI as the key concern in job loss, rather than immigration or offshoring. Compare this to our kids’ attitudes toward technology, however, and you couldn’t have a more different picture.
Gen Z and the even younger Gen Alpha, which is just starting kindergarten, have never known a world without the internet and are on the whole comfortable with using technology and social media. These groups will be the first generations to grow up in a society dominated by AI. In particular, household devices like smart speakers and their associated voice assistants are now starting to factor in kids’ development, changing their ways of consuming information and becoming a seamless part of the family’s daily routine.
Only last month, the BBC announced that it will be creating new bedtime stories for children, called “Listen with Alexa,” read by the AI-powered voice assistant. With almost half of British households predicted to own a smart speaker by 2022, this is just one example of the ways in which AI is predicted to become an important part of the lives of today’s children. Moreover, it reflects the beginning of a significant shift in how children learn and interact with others, including their families.
If used correctly, these devices could allow children to practice interaction skills from a young age, from asking questions to exploring various “commands.” Another benefit of encouraging the use of voice assistants is that most companies build them without a screen, meaning that some of the concerns raised in relation to children’s use of technology — such as the physical risks of increased screen time — are avoided.
A recent poll we conducted at Giraffe Insights revealed that a growing number of children are consuming media on screens outside of the home, with 46 percent watching content while traveling and 12 percent in restaurants. This increased screen use by children is a rising issue and has sparked a lot of debate, including within the U.K. government, which believes that longer use may have a negative impact on a child’s development and is considering harsher regulation and warning labels to help create a safer online environment for kids.
When it comes to interacting with AI-driven devices, parents must make decisions regarding appropriate use as the technology becomes part of the family. These devices have the potential to replace some key interactions, including those between parent and child. For example, the incredible wealth of knowledge made available by AI-powered devices will make homework time an entirely new experience. Children no longer need to ask their parents for help when they come across a tricky question, and some use AI devices to consult a digital thesaurus, dictionary, or source an answer to a math problem.
AI is by no means replacing all of the interactions between parent and child, but worn-out parents are already noticing the benefits of AI when it comes to keeping the kids occupied. Indeed, entertaining children is a major reason for wanting a voice-activated device.
As AI continues to develop, it’s clear that it will have a huge impact on the younger generations, who will no doubt continue to rely on their handheld devices for entertainment, education, and practical uses. But it’s important to note that AI is still not 100 percent child-proof. As a result, tech companies have the responsibility to make sure that these devices provide safe platforms for children. This is a matter that should rise to the top of priority lists, and it appears to be doing so within government circles.
Beyond any doubt, it’s important to consider the parent when it comes to children accessing AI devices. After all, parents are gatekeepers for their children’s online experience, and they usually have some control over the types of content their child consumes. It’s never been more important to understand not just the children but the parental audience so that tech companies and app developers can create the most appropriate content and deliver the best safeguards for our children.
Maxine Fox is the managing director at Giraffe Insights, a company that offers tailored research solutions, conducted by a team of experts, who provide a fresh perspective on the consumers of tomorrow.