With smart assistants – such as Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant – entering our homes and children getting acquainted with them, there have been concerns about children’s safety while they hang around such ‘artificially-intelligent’ voice agents. One of such concerns is if being around a voice assistant from which a kid can ask anything can make them bossier. To investigate if it was really a matter to worry about, scientists at the University of Washington conducted a study on 22 children. The researchers wanted to understand if hanging around with AI voice bots could affect the way the children communicated with humans.
According to scientists, the study found that communicating with voice assistants probably does not affect children's communication with humans, because children are sensitive to the context of these conversations. However, researchers do not completely deny the possibility that voice agents can subtly influence children’s habits such as their language and conversational tone, even when they speak to other people.
“There is a very deep sense for kids that robots are not people, and they did not want that line blurred,” says Alexis Hiniker, one of the co-authors of the study, in a statement published on University of Washington website. According to her, some children did bring their interaction with the voice assistants into their conversations with their parents, but it was more like a playful thing and something new for them. “It wasn’t like they were starting to treat their parent like a robot,” added Hiniker, who works as an assistant professor at the university's Information School.
To perform the study, researchers let the children interact with a voice agent that trained them to say the word “bungo” whenever it slowed down while speaking. They were led to interact with another voice agent that also slowed down but did not ask the children to say the word “bungo.” 77% of the children used the word “bungo” with the second voice agent. When children’s parents spoke to them, 68% of the children used the word “bungo” with them, but more so in a playful way. 18% of the children used the word with one of the researchers as well, who intentionally spoke slowly to them, making it evident that the children switched to the conversational norms efficiently while differentiating between their interactions with robots, parents and strangers.The study was published in June 2021 in the Interaction Design and Children conference 2021.