Voice assistant technology such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home device negatively impact children’s emotional and cognitive development, according to a new study.
The smart devices make it more likely that children will suffer from “impeded social development” and “hindered learning opportunities,” according to researchers who published their findings in the scientific journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
“The lack of ability to engage in non-verbal communication makes use of the devices a poor method of learning social interaction,” the two University of Cambridge researchers who headed the study, Ananya Arora and Anmol Arora, wrote.
The Post has sought comment from Apple and Alphabet-owned Google.
A spokesperson for Amazon told The Post: “Alexa is designed to provide accurate and helpful information.”
“Many of our customers have told us that Amazon Kids on Alexa, Echo Dot Kids and Kids Skills are helping their children, including those with autism and ADHD,” the rep added.
The study, published Tuesday, claims children’s reliance on the artificial intelligence-powered technology could lead to anti-social and harmful behaviors.
It also cited a BBC News story from last year claiming that an Alexa voice assistant “challenged” a 10-year-old girl to rub a coin against the prongs of a half-inserted plug.
“Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs,” the smart speaker said.
The child did not follow the dangerous directions, her mother had told the BBC.
Amazon said it updated its software and fixed the error after it became aware of the incident.
Researchers also said that “requiring social cues when interacting with the devices” such as “Hey Google” or “Hi Alexa” could increase the risk that children “over-anthropomorphize digital devices” — or attribute human characteristics of behavior to an inanimate object or animals.
The devices are also lacking because they do not teach children to respond with “Please” and “Thank you,” the study said.
“[M]ost social etiquette that exists in conventional human-human interactions is not replicated when making requests with digital devices,” according to the authors.
While the researchers note that the devices could benefit older populations who suffer from loneliness, they appear to have “counter effects in a pediatric population” which thus “requires more and urgent attention.”
They write that children’s interactions with the devices, which are useful in quickly providing information and social companionship to adults, “at a crucial stage in social and emotional development might have long-term consequences on empathy, compassion, and critical thinking.”
The Amazon rep countered: “Our Amazon Kids service on Alexa provides parental controls which help parents manage the ways their children interact with technology and serves age appropriate content.”
“We also offer polite mode which encourages children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when speaking to Alexa.”
“We believe voice technology will be a big part of the future and our goal is to provide an educational experience for kids combined with controls that give parents peace of mind.”
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