With the increasing presence of AI and Robotic Voice Assistants taking up even more space in our everyday lives – what’s most intriguing is the potential impact it has on a generation that cannot remember a world without AI being a part of everyday life.
But what do they actually talk about? As part of a mini experiment we let some children loose with Siri and recorded their conversations. In addition, through Social Media Listening, we explored all of the countless videos online of children engaging with Robotic Voice Assistants . We discovered that:
Children have the freedom to be weird and inappropriate and rude when not limited by the constant rules and boundaries of human interactions .
One of the first things to note is that robotic voice assistants do not follow the same etiquette patterns that humans expect of each other. Children no longer have to mind their P’s and Q’s when talking to Siri, especially when their parents aren’t around. Siri or Alexa complete whatever task is asked of them regardless of the tone of voice, regardless of whether they’re thanked and regardless of whether the question is shouted or whispered. As long as it’s clear, children will get a response.
This disconnect with conventional human interaction means that you can see an insight into a child’s mind that you wouldn’t get with the limitations of normal human conversation. They’re free to be as weird or as rude as they want.
Children treat robotic voice assistants as having some sentience but they are able to identify that it’s a different kind of sentience compared to animals or other humans.
How children interact and communicate with devices like Google Home, Alexa, Siri and the mass of robotic voice assistants available out there is reflective of one key thing we’ve learned: that for children instead of the world being populated by humans and animals – its instead populated by humans, animals and machines.
We have our first generation that will not remember a world without AI or virtual assistants. Children have identified that there is a certain level of intelligence that exists here, and although devices currently don’t have emotional intelligence – that they do have factual intelligence. And so Alexa or Siri are just another part of the family.
But despite recognising that AI doesn’t have emotional intelligence, children are getting attached emotionally to machines.
The University of Washington explored how 90 children interacted with Robovie – a life-sized Robot:
“The interview data showed that the majority of children believed that Robovie had mental states (e.g. was intelligent and had feelings) and was a social being (e.g. could be a friend, offer comfort, and be trusted with secrets). In terms of Robovie’s moral standing, children believed that Robovie deserved fair treatment and should not be harmed psychologically. ”
The conversations and social interactions they are having with these machines are entirely meaningful to them. They care about what happens to them.
Children develop deep relationships with the machines they anthropomorphise.
Alexa and Siri suddenly become keepers of secrets, source of joy and in some cases, best friends. Judith Newman wrote an article where she describes her son Gus’ relationship with Siri.
Gus has autism, and as Newman states, “For children like Gus who love to chatter but don’t quite understand the rules of the game, Siri is a nonjudgmental friend and teacher”.
Even when asked questions that most of us as adults might find rude – Alexa and Siri always respond positively, without judgment and most importantly without chastisement. They don’t retreat when you scream at them, and they always answer when you call their name.
This kind of programmed loyalty can be easily misconstrued for unconditional love, and what child wouldn’t want that?