Smart speakers – or smart speakers – are one of the most popular technological innovations of recent times. Products like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Nest come with a wide range of features and can be controlled via voice, including artificial intelligence that responds to user orders, playing music, providing information, telling jokes or responding to questions.
One of the most popular is the use of columns to help while playing with children or babysitting. North Irish author Séamas O’Reilly, in an opinion piece for the Guardian, noted that some of the features are intuitive for kids, giving the example of when he discovered that the column could reproduce animal sounds through simple orders like “makes a lion sound.” The writer added that technology enchanted his son while emitting noises corresponding either to a vast fauna or to sounds characteristic of the planet, such as waterfalls or engines.
According to the 2020 Smart Audio Report, a report that results from a partnership between NPR and Edison Research, the number of users of ‘smart speakers’ who admitted wanting to buy another speaker to entertain children in other rooms of the house went from 47% to 71%, between the springs of 2019 and 2020, that is, comparing the confinement period with the pre-pandemic period.
On the other hand, alerts have already been raised about possible breaches of privacy of these devices. In 2018, Amazon launched the Echo Dot kids edition, a version specially designed for children of the popular model that includes Alexa artificial intelligence. A launch that immediately caused controversy, due to a feature that stored the voices of children who interacted with it. Given this, Amazon felt the need to counter this concern, declaring that the recordings could be erased at any time and that they were used only to enrich its resources, but the suspicion remained.
In an article for NPR in 2017, child psychologist Rachel Severson, author of studies on interactions between children and artificial intelligence, also warned that it is necessary to be very careful with the way children are exposed to these robots: “Children are developing concepts of what is an appropriate social interaction. Therefore it is necessary for parents to recognize that children are aware of how they interact with the machine and with others”, giving the example that the machine does not react in a way different between polite and aggressive requests. Additionally, Severson cautioned that “an interaction between a child and Alexa is scarce in complexity compared to how a child would talk to a person in real life”, encouraging parents to talk to their children about what they learned after using the column.
Overall, smart speakers can be a valuable help during babysitting, making available various types of material that enrich the games between parents and children, but it is recommended that you pay attention to the care to be taken, as well as the type and frequency of interaction between children and machines.
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