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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Alexa, how will voice bots affect kids?

Mattel’s Aristotle baby monitor is billed as “the Amazon Echo for kids.”

“As millions of American families buy robotic voice assistants to turn off lights, order pizzas and fetch movie times, children are eagerly co-opting the gadgets to settle dinner table disputes, answer homework questions and entertain friends at sleepover parties,” writes Michael S. Rosenwald in the Washington Post.

Parents see Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana as making kids “more curious but also, at times, far less polite,” writes Rosenwald.

Toy giant Mattel recently announced the birth of Aristotle, a home baby monitor launching this summer that “comforts, teaches and entertains” using AI from Microsoft. As children get older, they can ask or answer questions. The company says, “Aristotle was specifically designed to grow up with a child.” . . . Although Mattel’s new assistant will have a setting forcing children to say “please” when asking for information, the assistants made by Google, Amazon and others are designed so users can quickly — and bluntly — ask questions.

“Alexa tolerates poor manners,” wrote Hunter Walk, a California venture capitalist with a 4-year-old daughter.

“Cognitively I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around but not a person,” Walk wrote. “At the very least, it creates patterns and reinforcement that so long as your diction is good, you can get what you want without niceties.”

Parent-child communications change when there’s a digital assistant in the home, writes Rosenwald. “Parents (including this reporter) have noticed that queries previously made to adults are shifting to assistants, particularly for homework — spelling words, simple math, historical facts.”

Humans, a British TV series, imagines a future in which humanoid Synthetics have become overly efficient helpers to human families, reading bedtime stories better than Mom, overriding an elderly man’s meal preferences. (Do they achieve consciousness? Of course.)

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