Co-Parenting With Alexa

from NYTs

You are going to have a chance to play with Alexa,” I told my daughter, Grace, who’s 3 years old. Pointing at the black cylindrical device, I explained that the speaker, also known as the Amazon Echo, was a bit like Siri but smarter. “You can ask it anything you want,” I said nonchalantly.

Grace leaned forward toward the speaker. “Hello, Alexa, my name is Gracie,” she said. “Will it rain today?” The turquoise rim glowed into life. “Currently, it is 60 degrees,” a perky female voice answered, assuring her it wouldn’t rain.

Over the next hour, Grace figured out she could ask Alexa to play her favorite music from the film “Sing.” She realized Alexa could tell jokes, do math or provide interesting facts. “Hey, Alexa, what do brown horses eat?” And she soon discovered a whole new level of power. “Alexa, shut up,” she barked, then looked a little sheepish and asked me if it was O.K. to be rude to her. So she thought the speaker had feelings?

By the next morning, Alexa was the first “person” Grace said hello to as she bounded into the kitchen wearing her pink fluffy dressing gown. My preschooler who can’t yet ride a bike or read a book had also quickly mastered that she could buy things with the bot’s help, or at least try to.

“Alexa, buy me blueberries,” she commanded. Grace, of course, had no idea that Amazon, the world’s biggest retailer, was the corporate behemoth behind the helpful female assistant, and that smoothing the way when it came to impulse buys was right up Alexa’s algorithmic alley.

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13 Comments

  1. This article brings to mind and spurs thought of what the future, a future not too far away, will be like particularly in our relationship with AI or Artificial Intelligence. In the article, the author describes her ‘experiment’ including her 3-year-old daughter and Amazon’s Alexa. Her daughter learned that she could ask Alexa virtually anything she wanted to beginning with the weather and later moving on to more personal questions as well as commands like playing music and shopping. The preschooler had almost begun to see Alexa as an actual person, one day telling Alexa to shut up and asking her mother if it was okay to be rude to Alexa. The author makes a valid point that in the past, the most we had ever trusted a machine was for it to do what it was expected and designed to do. We would never call a washing machine, ATM, refrigerator, or even a phone, at least in the past and less so presently, by name or to form some type of relationship with them. As time moves on, especially for the younger generation, people will rely on AI to make decisions for them. At one point, the author’s daughter had even been asking Alexa what she should wear. The author felt she was being replaced, though I think her daughter’s intent was only to see what Alexa could do and how much of a ‘person’ she is. Artificial Intelligence, although technically still in its early stages of development, is already getting into everything we do. You can command Alexa, Siri, and Google Home to control smart home devices such as adjust the room lighting. the climate control, and to even lock the doors. I prefer to do all of these things on my own. These virtual assistants are on your phone and computer and even in cylinders that sit on your countertop. Soon they’ll be driving your car. I personally don’t care for or often use these products. The most I use Siri to control is my wireless speakers to play music. Besides Siri and the Xbox Kinect, I don’t own any other ‘smart’, voice controlled, or AI devices. Even though I, most probably similar to a significant number of others, may not like the idea that AI is coming to control or work in almost every aspect of our lives, we will have to simply accept, embrace, and adapt, or there will be some tough difficulties in the road ahead.

  2. Although the argument in this article slightly hint towards the fact that Amazon is slowly controlling and monopolizing large portions of the world and the things in it, my position stands less with the thought of amazon and more with the thought of robots in general. Yes, the concept of robots taking over seemed very comical years ago, but that was before certain advancements were made and the human mind began to expand on the possibilities of exactly what could happen with a little more programing. This article seemed like a story that could have been made up in a matter of minute’s with how basic it is, involving a little girl and her mom, but to me that is what makes it so scary. The fact that a little girl, someone so innocent can be effected makes the story very real and put us at accountability. I was raised in a strict house that was not into technology. We were “outdoors” people. Growing up I spent my time riding bikes, exploring the woods, fishing, and playing with my friends. I didn’t have a phone till I was 13 and only got it because I was going into high school and my mom was scared I’d get kidnapped. I always thought that when I had kids of my own, I would treat them the same way I was. I wanted to raise them without them being dependent on technology as a child, getting used to playing games on my phone and at the dinner table. That is not right. Unfortunately, I think that I am at the wrong end of the barrel, as times continue to move on, it is harder and harder to escape the never ending flow of advancement. I do not see it as dangerous where we can be physically harmed, but I do think psychologically it is taking a toll on us, especially if you are okay with your three-year-old daughter’s best friend being a speaker.

  3. Rachel Botsman is a little dramatic about her project with Grace. I believe Grace at three years old will act very similar to people as she will to Alexa as she would possibly with toys.
    To begin with, I think this incident with Alexa has to do more with children’s imagination and trust than it does to how people will develop with AI bots. Grace is a quick learner from asking questions as if Alexa was a person, to becoming in charge of telling Alexa what to do, to building a relationship. The Alexa was given to her as a mystery of what she can be asked. Given a common name, along with a voice like a human, Grace asked it similar questions she would to a person. I think the reasons kids ask “how old are you” or “what are you” are to see the bot’s responses. Using imagination children at such a young age tend to talk to toys and dolls giving them commands or role-play situations like playing school. Rachael is just overreacting because the Alexa can talk back, unlike the dolls children play with. All in all, I believe it is more imagination, or thinking there is a person with a microphone coming from the bot, instead of believing the bot is real.
    In addition to imagination, the majority children according to Botsman say that they believe everything Alexa tells them. As a robot, I too would believe they should be programmed to tell the truth about information, so I put some of my trust in their forecasts of the weather or other information. I have not yet seen the Alexa that can tell if your outfit is the best to wear, but I would not believe it as much as a child would. In my experience, children tend to believe everything you say as long as it is said in a moderately convincing way. They also spill a lot of information where older children learn not to tell everyone as much information. The same follows to the Alexa. I believe Grace puts her trust into it because there is no other reason to not trust it. It is just a common way a child acts in my eyes which is why I think that Botsman is overreacting on how children interpret Alexa because they have greater imaginations and do similar things with toys that do not give a response back.

  4. The technology that has evolved over the past decade is simply amazing and has blown everyone away. Not only does new technology such as the Amazon echo and i phones make our lives easier, it also gives us something to do. Personally owning an Alexa myself, I enjoy asking it useful questions such as what is the weather like outside, what is the forecast for this week. But in no way do I find myself relying on my Alexa for life choices. Grace’s mothers is way too concerned with future generation’s use of Artificial Intelligence and their decision making. To me this is a little ridiculous. As Grace grows up, she will realize her own identity, and make her own decisions without the use of Alexa. Instead, the real problem with technologal advancements is substituting robots for human workers simply because it will be cheaper for companies to pay robots who are more efficient and productive then a human worker. Unemployment rates will skyrocket when robots take over jobs, and this will be a big economical problem.

    It is true that current as well as upcoming generation’s are addicted to new technology, which can be a bit concerning. This may have an effect on the child’s future life skills, learning skills and social skills. It is important to understand nothing is bad for you if used in moderation. The same applies to technology. Overusing technology will lead to reliance on it, and that is a problem most children have.

    All in all, Grace’s mother does not make valid justification to her argument and she is overly concerned on such a small matter, and should rather be concerned with AI taking over many jobs in the future.

  5. The dependence on technology has increased vastly in the past several years. In addition, children start learning how to use technology at an early age. It is important for parents to monitor how their children are using technology; however, many parents are unaware of the implications that come with technology usage.
    After reading this article, I was shocked to learn about the marketing strategies that lies behind Amazon’s Alexa. Amazon are working on a product called an Echo Look, which has a feature that will allow the Alexa to take a hand – free selfie with voice recognition. The camera will allow Amazon’s cloud to see what clothes you wear, which they can use to formulate specific advertisements for that particular consumer. Although I believe that Amazon is invading the privacy of their consumers, I must admit that their advertising strategy is brilliant. Furthermore, Amazon will be able to use the data their devices collect for their personal gain or they can sell to another company. Amazon is already a huge powerhouse, but with their increasing data and information about consumers, they will have no competition.
    I do not have an Alexa, but many of the kids I babysit have one and use it frequently. Similarly to Gracie, the children I babysit for like to ask Alexa to play their favorite music or to tell them a joke. I did notice how dependent the children are on their Alexa. In addition, the younger children tend to have a greater reliance on Alexa and other technologies than the older ones. For instance, whenever a younger child has a question they ask Alexa for the answer, instead of trying to figure out what the answer could be. My observations lines up with the M.I.T. Media Lab experiment, where they took a sample of twenty – seven children to test Alexa, Google Home, Julie, and Cozmo devices. The results show that 80% of children believed that Alexa was telling the truth and the younger children saw the devices as real people.
    What will the world look like in fifty years when those children growing up with these devices grow up? In order to avoid the privacy problems that come along with using devices like Alexa, parents must be aware of what they are allowing in their houses. If parents taught their young children to be mindful of what they are using to Alexa or how they use their other data because everything can be tracked.

  6. This article written for the New York Times by Rachel Botsman raises really strong points to how easily technology has been integrated into our day to day lives. I myself do not personally use “Alexa”, however, there is one located in my house and I find it unsettling with how much power she has. Botsman, says her daughter quickly learned how to boss around the device by telling her to “shut up” and “buy me blueberries”. To that I have trouble getting a sense of where the line is on overall interactions. I think it would be interesting to test in a social experiment if children who make commands to technology differentiate their tones and choice of words when speaking to humans or animals.
    Botsman follows her description of the interactions by reminding us that we don’t talk to nor trust other forms of technology. We don’t verbally tell our dishwasher to turn on and we don’t trust that the oven will cook for the right amount of time. When it comes to phones or computers we seem to tell them more about us even though it could potentially be riskier.
    On the risky side, Botsman points out a study that claimed “80 percent of children thought Alexa would tell the truth”. This can be a scary situation if the power of controlling these platforms falls into the hands of the wrong people. They can easily program incorrect or harmful responses that children can follow.
    Overall, Botsman’s experiment to see how easily Alexa affected her daughter’s life is something that can be very influential to other parents. We live too dependent on the technology that we very seldom question if its benefiting or hurting us.

  7. In today’s society, children are being raised with technology. Technology is incorporated in many different aspects of their lives; many children are given tablets with educational games. This younger generation is raised trusting machines and technology because they were the tools used from their first memories. Children can be trusting and if children are raised with this technology it will be something they grow to rely and trust. People put trust into a code which is designed to use the information to try to sell more things, in Alexa’s case. As stated in the article, the upgrade to have Alexa see you has the ulterior motive of using more information to specify which ads to show to the individual. The coding is made to gather information needed to make more money. When children are able to give their information from a young age, these codes will have more information on these individuals.
    The experiment solidifies many fears that people have on how technology will be used in the future. The trust in machines is growing as people are raised with them from birth. Botsman’s child forms a relationship with the machine and believes the machine has feelings and opinions. The daughter was ready to ask any question that came to her mind. Technology is being easily embraced, with repercussions of this trust not being realized until it’s too late. Amazon gave Alexa a name to have people accept her easily, which essentially worked. The daughter even yelled at Alexa and then apologized. She expressed emotion and felt obligated to apologize to a machine that does not have feelings. Personalizing machines gives people a bigger reason to trust them and gives companies more access to information.

  8. After reading this article, I noticed how devices like the Alexa have an impact on the children of the next generation. With the constant advances in technology, children are being introduced to these devices that they depend their life on. From my own personal experience, I constantly see children using iPhones, tablets and iPads to play games and they become oblivious to the world around them. Many of the times when parents and them this technology, it is a way to stop them from misbehaving or being disruptive in public. The writer Rachel Botsman stated many clear examples of how quickly children can get influenced and stuck on technology. One reason I believe kids are so intrigued by devices like Alexa because they get the constant gratification of Alexa communicating with them and sharing all sorts of information in a blink of an eye.
    When Rachel Bostman explained how her daughter treated the device like a person, I believe it truly shows that these type of devices should just be used by adults. A children’s mind is too underdeveloped to understand that these devices are not actually real and don’t have feeling like human beings. I personally own an Alexa device myself and for the most part I find it very helpful. I normally use it to make my grocery list and it makes it easier for me when going shopping. Being an Alexa device owner, I find it creepy how the new devices can now see you with the new Style Check feature. Amazon is doing this in order to linger consumers into buying more products that fit their style.

  9. After reading the article “Co-Parenting With Alexa” by NYTs, a realization of what artificial intelligence can do for humanity, made me come to the conclusion that the generations after me will be smarter than I ever will be; not just smarter, but also more ignorant of how they are being manipulated into doing what huge corporations want them to do. For example, a kindergartener with an Amazon Echo will no way more than I did at that age, but will also become a compulsive online buyer at an earlier age. In store shopping and online shopping are extremely different in the sense that one does not value money when it is not physical. It is easier to restrain yourself from purchasing more than you need when you have the cash in your hands, as opposed to just seeing a balance on a screen. Corporations like Amazon invest heavily on research to find ways that make a person purchase more. These researches lead to better marketing techniques, new tools for paying, machines that allow you to browse through websites, and making websites more user friendly. The Amazon Echo is a great example of what modern day research has came up with. The Amazon Echo has built in artificial intelligence that produces answer to peoples’ questions. The Amazon Echo even has a female voice which sounds soothing and calm, almost as if it were replicating the voice of a mother. Amazon uses these new artificial intelligence voices in order to get the customer addicted through emotion. Mostly everyone loves their mother and especially little children. These little children will grow up thinking that the Amazon Echo is like a parental figure, but better because it never talks back to them. This can become a huge problem, because children are learning to interact at a very young age with artificial intelligence and become accustomed to being in control of that artificial intelligence. This modern day parenting can produce in abundance, children who are disobedient to real adults, other peers, and even to their own family members. The corporations that are creating these artificial technology do not care about the effects of their product. Corporations only care that their product becomes a profit, and that it makes it easier for the customer to access their online store and purchase from them again. Once I become a parent I will definitely put limitations on my child so that he or she can learn the difference between the real and virtual life.

  10. The use of technology today has made the lives of many much easier, while on the other hand it has caused a dependency that we have easily passed down to our children. We pass it down in our homes, and even educators tend to do it in schools by being reliant on smart boards and tablets. Teachers have help in that so much is made available to assist them and helping them keep track of things that their students do that they would normally be doing. Using the Alexa device makes it no different. I would say that as long as the adults understand the way this technology can harm the children therefore keeping them away would be the expected thing.

    Technology is necessary however, I do fear that many parents are overwhelmed as it is. Gadgets like Alexa should not replace what a parent should be giving to their child. Human connection and interaction is extremely important and if we are not careful we can easily forget that. It’s interesting to see how this new “co-parent’ affects children in everyday circumstances. Does it diminish their ability to easily communicate with their elders? Is learning most successful when it’s done through a robot of some sort? These are all issues that should concern most caregivers. Possibly the best answer is to keep these devices away from your children as long as you can, because it surely seems like it is the way of the future!

  11. The use of technologies, in this case a robot, are becoming a part of todays society. Children tend to spend more time using screens than playing outside. My 3 year old little cousin is able to unlock his older sisters phone and play games on it. It is something that was not possible a couple of years ago and it is a sign of a big change in todays education. Parenting is a complete different task now. I would say that parents used to restrict people and had to order them to be home at a certain moment of the day, for example dinner. And in the future parents will be most likely asking their children to go out and play outside instead of staying home.
    But the impact of the technologies is a little controversial. As much as it influences people to stay home and spend less time with other people, it connects the user to the world and link more people together. It is mostly a difference in the type of relations. In a decade and more, the business world will be much different because the people that are going to be seeking for a job will have different type of habits, maybe the offices will disappear and everything will be made from home, online. Maybe people will not look at each other in the eyes when meeting each other, and shaking hands will not happen anymore. ?To avoid this type of robotization of the world, I believe in the the role of the parents to prevent the world of the robots colonization. It is important that children play outside, do sports, write on paper instead of computers and all these kind of little acts that need to not disappear.

  12. The future generations are going to grow up trusting and relying on the artificial intelligence devices. The article proved that Alexa can now answer all of the questions an individual has, the author’s daughter no longer has to attend to her questions. Prospective generations are going to depend on and treat the devices as actual humans. The article showed that the author’s daughter was greeting Alexa in the morning before she greeted everyone else. I think we have to be concerned about the reliance on these devices.
    The dependency on technology is rising. I think most of us cannot go a day without using some sort of technology — it is everywhere. Children growing up with these devices must be taught to caution the security and privacy issues that derive from artificial intelligence devices. Trust is acquired quickly, but do we really know the true intentions of the devices? There are ethical and commercial implications that arise and the extent of trust for artificial intelligence devices is questionable.

  13. After reading the title of this article, I immediately knew that this article was about the famous Amazon voice activated robot, Alexa. Our generation is so dependent upon using technology as a form of guidance. I find it incredible how younger children tend to trust highly upon the opinions of these smart machines as oppose to their parents. Over the years, Alexa has formed credibility through Amazon and many people have bought this machine. However, I never thought we would form such a relationship with a device. Children must be thought that they can’t depend on technology for everything. Unfortunately, our generation advertises these machines as beneficial which is the whole purpose of technology in order to make our lives easier.

    Personally, I believe technology should not hold so much power over a person’s life. We make these machines to help us, yet we feel obligated to rely on them for so much help. There is a limit to everything. Technology like Alexa does not have real feelings or emotions because it is not a human! Children must acknowledge the difference because they are young and are already heavily relying on these products to guide them in every aspect. I found it surprising how the authors daughter, Grace, relied on fashion help from Alexa as oppose to her mother. This is not the purpose of Alexa. In my opinion, Alexa is supposed to help you find out the news tell you the weather, or help buy you something from Amazon. Alexa is not supposed to take parenting roles and act as a human. This is where children tend to get confused. I think parents need to take control over their children in situations like these. The author, Rachel Botsman, in the end when she put Alexa away into the closet, that was the right thing to do in that situation because her daughter formed an overly attached relationship with the robot.

    Alexa reminds me of a more complex form of Apple’s Siri. Siri was first developed in 2010 and Alexa came out recently in 2017. Siri was originally made to assist us with our questions and was easily accessible on our iPhone’s. The main problem with Alexa is that it’s on a whole different device. Amazon products had purposely released a whole new device called “Echo” which has the software Alexa installed in it. Personally, I think it’s a waste of money. When I have Siri on my iPhone which is portable, why should I pay $100 for a device that only carries the Alexa software. Technology needs to be used for its sole purposes of benefitting us but not the point where we depend on it so heavily.

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