Recently, during an intense bout of insomnia, I spent far too much time on YouTube and stumbled upon a rerun of Oprah’s Master Class. An older, wiser Billy Bob Thornton was being interviewed. As he reminisced about the good old days, he caught me off guard when he began talking about technology and its impact on the creative brain. He challenged viewers to remember a time prior to Google, Alexa, Bixby and Siri. A time, where during a chat someone might say, “heh what was that movie where Meryl Streep paddled a raft in whitewater? A time where we couldn’t ask Alexa for assistance. Perhaps a simpler time where we would wonder, sometimes for days on end, until the answer came to us or our musings took us in a completely different direction. Billy Bob went on to lament about the impact on the next generation of artists, for without “wonder” where will art come from? What will happen to imagination?
Intrigued, I decided to explore the impact of artificial intelligence on children’s development. Yes – I googled it! Billy Bob isn’t alone wondering about the future. By 2021 researchers predict the global market for voice activated virtual assistants will grow to 1.8 billion users. Tech experts and psychologists are currently weighing in on the potential benefits and hazards of artificial intelligence on children and youth.
AI can facilitate learning – both academic and social. In fact, “robots can facilitate the development and practice of conflict resolution skills in young children.” (Solace Shen, Ph.D.)
AI devices fun and entertaining
AI devices are convenient, just ask any harried mother who relies heavily on Alexa for a smooth bedtime routine
Children need social interaction for healthy childhood development - “Acquiring communication skills means eye contact and reading facial expressions. Alexa can’t provide that.” (Susan Pinker, Ph.D.)
Children need to be bored
Children need to wonder
Children need to learn how to amuse themselves
Realistically, artificial intelligence is here to stay, so it is paramount that we guide our children and help foster safe and healthy relationships with Alexa and other voice activated devices.
A few tips from the child development experts:
View technology as an enhancement not a replacement. Nothing beats a snuggle and a good bedtime story.
Listen to your kids. How are they interacting with their AI devices?
Teach your children to use AI responsibly
Talk to your kids – ask probing questions and trust your gut
Teach your children to be cybersafe
Truthfully, there are many uncertainties around Artificial Intelligence, but we certainly know it will impact almost all parts of our lives, and likely impact our children the most. I wonder how we can ensure this evolving technology will benefit, and not harm, the next generation.
I wonder if the children are wondering!