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Are Alexa and Siri Making Our Kids DOM?

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Alexa, Siri and Google Home may make children less intelligent and socially immature, it was claimed today.

The voice-activated devices – popular in homes around the world – allow users to ask questions and get answers.

But this can hinder young people’s learning skills, critical thinking and empathy, says Dr Anmol Arora, a researcher at the University of Cambridge.

dr. Anmol Arora, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, says this is because the tech only gives short and concise answers to questions, inappropriate answers and cannot provide feedback on their social skills. Pictured: Amazon Echo

HOW CAN SMART DEVICES INFLUENCE THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN?

According to an artificial intelligence expert, Alexa, Siri and Google Home may make children less intelligent and socially immature.

The voice-enabled devices — which allow users to ask questions and get answers — can hinder young people’s learning skills, critical thinking and empathy.

dr. Anmol Arora, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, says this is because the tech only gives short and concise answers to questions, inappropriate answers and cannot provide feedback on their social skills.

On top of his concerns, the technology has come under fire before after studies revealed how dependent children were on them.

One found that children talk more to their Alexa, Siri or Google Home than to their grandparents.

Results from a survey of 1,200 six- to 11-year-olds in the UK show that young people use the devices every day, compared to talking to their grandparents once every 10 days.

The same poll found that nearly three-quarters admitted they didn’t say “please” or “thank you” when speaking to the smart speakers.

And one in three said they turned to their device rather than their parents.

In addition, parents have reported turning to the devices to read their children bedtime stories.

Neuroscience and education experts have expressed concern that the technology is in danger of becoming a ‘substitute for human interaction’.

Writing in the Archives of childhood illnesswarned Dr. Arora that the devices may make young people less intelligent.

Kids can ask a question and get a “concise” and “specific” answer — but this goes against how they traditionally learn and absorb information, he said.

By comparison, when an adult responds to a young person’s question, they can add context, explain the limits of their knowledge, and unravel the child’s reasoning.

But smart devices can’t replicate this process, Dr. Arora.

And easy access to answers can keep kids from searching for the information on their own — a process needed to think critically and reason logically, he said.

The technology can also give children inappropriate and potentially dangerous reactions.

dr. Arora pointed to reports of Amazon’s Alexa telling a 10-year-old to plug in a phone halfway through and touch a coin to the exposed pins.

He noted that it is difficult to monitor comments and “enforce robust parental controls on such devices without seriously affecting their functionality.”

The devices also raise privacy concerns by recording conversations from children, said Dr. Arora.

In addition to being potentially unsuitable for children, the technology could hinder their social development, he said.

This is because the voice assistants can’t teach children how to behave politely, because there is no need to say “please” or “thank you” or use a considerate voice, said Dr. Arora.

He noted: ‘The lack of ability to engage in non-verbal communication makes using the devices a poor method of learning social interaction.

“While in normal human interactions a child would usually receive constructive feedback if they behaved inappropriately, this is beyond the reach of a smart device.”

And while some research suggests the voice assistants can address loneliness among adults, this may not apply to children.

He noted: ‘This is especially important at a time when children may already be lagging behind in social development due to Covid restrictions and when [they] may have spent more time at home isolated with smart devices.’

dr. Arora noted that the devices benefit the population by providing quick information, assisting with daily activities and providing companionship to lonely adults.

But he called for “urgent research” into the long-term implications for children who interact with the technology.

He added: “Interacting with the devices at a critical stage of social and emotional development can have long-term implications for empathy, compassion and critical thinking.”

But other experts have backtracked on the conclusions.

dr. Amy Orben, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘This academic paper provides no new evidence about the impact of voice assistants on children.

“It’s an opinion piece and the argument is largely based on news reports and anecdotal evidence, citing very little scientific evidence.

Most of the concerns raised in this article are supported only by news reports and not by scientific evidence. Little is known scientifically about the impact of voice assistants on children.

“The effects of voice assistants are likely mixed and highly dependent on how they are used by children.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Alexa is designed to provide accurate and useful information.

“Many of our customers have told us that Amazon Kids on Alexa, Echo Dot Kids and Kids Skills help their children, including those with autism and ADHD.

“Our Amazon Kids service on Alexa offers parental controls that allow parents to manage the way their children interact with technology and provide age-appropriate content.

We also offer a polite mode that encourages children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when talking to Alexa.

“We believe that speech technology will be a big part of the future and our goal is to provide children with an educational experience combined with controls that give parents peace of mind.”

Voice assistant devices have come under fire before after studies revealed how dependent children were on them.

One found that children talk more to their Alexa, Siri or Google Home than to their grandparents.

Results from a survey of 1,200 six- to 11-year-olds in the UK show that young people use the devices every day, compared to talking to their grandparents once every 10 days.

The same poll found that nearly three-quarters admitted they didn’t say “please” or “thank you” when speaking to the smart speakers.

And one in three said they turned to their device rather than their parents.

In addition, parents have reported turning to the devices to read their children bedtime stories.

Neuroscience and education experts have expressed concern that the technology is in danger of becoming a “substitute for human interaction.”

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