Alexa, Are you safe for my kids?

By: Sandhya Varma
Nowthose of you who are wondering after reading the title about who alexa is, I would like to share my experience before I share what or who it is.
It was during my trip to United States as a delegate to the JCI-UN global partnership summit 2017 in August 2017, I had been visiting my friends and relatives post conference. In most of the houses I went, I found people interacting with this character called alexa and it was kind of a weird interaction, from children to adults , were giving instructions to this Alexa; Alexa, switch on the TV! Alexa, help me relax! Alex, Warm my food! Alexa, What is the time !
And all I heard was a voice which would respond very politely followed by completing the given task. Sometimes to stop the action, some kids would say , Alexa ! Shut Up and the voice would still politely say thank you and a bye.
Seeing me wonder stuck and perplexed who this Alexa is and where is the voice coming from, one of my friends was kind enough to explain what alexa was. Alexa was not a girl or girls voice as I presumed it to be, Alexa was Amazons cloud-based voice service, the brain behind the companys voice-controlled speakers- answers questions, plays music, reads the news, provides sports scores, and much more.
It was indeed a gift of artificial intelligence to the world of technology. My friend explained, with alexa around things have become so much easy, alexa can be operated to control different things/ gadgets at home even when you are not at home, Alexa can give you the comfort of operating all your gadgets, from ceiling fan to air conditioners to televisions right from where you are sitting.
Not only this, it can play with your kids, help them learn, play matches with them, counsel them, talk to them and many more similar stuffs and it doesn't end with this, you have a provision of adding skills to alexa, you can make it work the way you want it. Yes I wouldn't deny , it truly fascinated me, I liked the concept and felt it does make life much more simpler and may be for the pace of life they have it might be useful.
But my analytical kept thinking on several lines, as such in our busy lives we hardly get time to spend with our children, added to that if we tie up our kids to gadgets like this ,is that fair ? Though I found the memory games and word games quite interesting and felt that would boost up their thinking skills.
Also we are detrmined to teach our children manners on one side, but kids having friends like Alexa, its ok to be rude as it does not respond or correct, isn't it habituating kids to use a language without the magical words of please and sorry, people in that country on one side were struggling to remain physically fit, cutting down carbohydrates from their diet and spending money on gym and on the other side they did not want to get up from their bed to switch the fan on which was quite contradictory and surprising.
Well I left my thoughts when I travelled back , assuming it would take some time for people back at hometown to accept and get accustomed to such a concept. But then India witnessed an evolution in the field of technology and Artifical intelligence when amazon launched alexas indian version easily accessible and affordable. Yes! it definitely is a symbol of growth, globalization and advancement. But it would be great if we are aware of the limitations and potential risks of any technology before we get fantasized with its functionalities.
One of the big concerns is that people tend to be impolite with the devices. You can yell at them and scream, 'I don't like that song, skip ahead!' And the devices just respond in the same way as if you're polite, she says. At first that doesn't seem like a big deal. The devices are just computers, right? Maybe not to your children, Severson says. Young kids likely view these devices very differently than adults do, They may attribute human characteristics to the device, thinking that Alexa has feelings and emotions.
Some kids may even think theres an actual woman inside the device. Thats exactly what one little boy, age 4, tells about his Alexa - that she was a person who lived in an apartment outside his window. And he loved her. Given this intimate relationship with the device, parents need to be careful how they interact with Alexa and Google Home.
Children are developing their conceptions of what is appropriate social interaction, So parents need to recognize that your kids - particularly young children - are really paying attention to you as the parent for cues on how to interact with the device and how to interact with others. So if you want kids to say, Please and thank you, you probably want to say Please and thank you to your virtual assistant as well.
Don't just watch your child converse with Alexa or Google Home, but also participate. Parents need to be aware that Alexa is a passive system,So kids can potentially jump from topic to topic, and the system will just continue to respond in the same way.
It will never push back.In this way, the interaction between a kid and Alexa is lacking in complexity compared to how a kid would talk to a person in real life.So parents can help enrich the interaction by getting involved. You can ask the child questions about what they just learned, comment on how they're talking to the device or make connections to things in real life that relate to the topic.And if you're not around when the kid is talking to Alexa, check in afterwards to see how they're using the device.
Alexa and Google Home should never take the place of a caregiver. In reality, we are all busy parents. And there are times that I even give my child a tablet just so I can get my work done. But in general, parents should think of these devices in a similar way as tablets: Time on them should be limited. These devices offer more engagement and interaction than just passively watching TV. But that interaction is still impoverished compared to talking to a parent or teacher.
Make sure there is a balance between the time kids are interacting with the systems versus interacting with humans, doing physical activities and getting enough rest. Because children learn best when they interact with real people, face to face. And to learn social skills they need to interact with someone who has a whole array of emotions.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)


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