Cambridge scientists see that language assistants can have a negative impact on children’s language, compassion and critical thinking.
According to research by a British research team from the University of Cambridge, the proliferation of language assistants and their use can negatively affect children’s social and cognitive development. The scientific paper, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood on Tuesday, shows that using Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s Siri can have long-term effects on language, empathy, compassion and critical thinking.
According to the science team in Effects of smart voice control devices on children: current challenges and future perspectives, voice assistants would associate human traits and behaviors with children. Children then imitate the devices and also adopt their language deficiencies, such as a monotonous tone without intonation and at a constant volume.
In addition, the children do not have to ask the language assistants for anything, but can only give them orders. A thank you for an answer is not necessary. Social manners, as they are common between people, recede into the background. For example, children would also display rude behavior towards people. Also, the children no longer learn to ask more complex questions. These are simply structured for the language assistants so that the devices understand them. The questions “always come in the form of a request,” says Anmol Arora, one of the co-authors of the study.
The language assistants are not suitable for learning social interaction because non-verbal communication is missing, writes the research team. When communicating, children receive a wide range of constructive feedback if they behave incorrectly. Language assistants cannot react to such behavior in a targeted manner.
Amazon already has the “Magic Word” function built into the Kids Edition of its Echo Dot. Alexa then rewards polite manners in communication. The scientists are also critical of this.
When children ask other people questions, an exchange takes place in a conversation. In this way, children learn, for example, how the other person asks questions when more information is needed about the question. The arguments of children can also be checked in the conversation. Language assistants do not convey the process of searching for information. They only give short and very specific answers. Children cannot understand how and where the language assistants got this information from. Accordingly, there is a lack of a learning experience that promotes critical thinking and logical reasoning in children.
The researchers concede, however, that language assistants also have positive effects, such as the ability to obtain information quickly. Also, they can be a social companion to lonely adults. The science team sees a need for further research into the possible long-term effects of language assistants on children.