Kids, Meet Your AI Mary Poppins – Alexa!

Well, I found this on the web the other day and ….. humm …. just not quite sure the world is or should be ready for this yet!…

Let me know what you think. The article is from who are financially supported by Amazon


“Alexa, what is seven plus three?”
“Alexa, who is Harry Potter?”
“Alexa, I’m bored.”
“Alexa, where do babies come from?”

Families who have a “smart speaker” at home like Amazon’s Echo may be used to kids saying stuff like this to which, Amazon has just announced that Alexa’s going to get better at answering them.

Last week, the company unveiled a new version of its Echo home device with a spill-proof case and a warranty. Amazon is also introducing parental controls, including time limits, for the Echo for the first time. Google Home, its biggest competitor, already has some.

And, the Echo is adding a version of Amazon’s kids’ music, stories and games service, called FreeTime Unlimited, for $2.99 a month. Finally, they have “tuned” Alexa’s “personality,” with the help of child-development experts, to be more kid-friendly, and even to understand kids’ voices better, like if they say “Awexa” instead of “Alexa”.

The updated Alexa is a little chattier than before, with longer explanations, more corny jokes and fun facts. It’s also designed to model good behaviour. The “magic word” feature offers positive reinforcement: When you say “Please,” it replies “thanks for asking so nicely.” If you tell Alexa you’re sad, it will “empathise,” and suggest it can play you a song, or that you should talk to a friend. Reid describes Alexa’s personality as “humble, smart, helpful, sometimes funny.”

Justine Cassell isn’t surprised by this at all. She’s associate dean for technology strategy and impact of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Cassell says her research shows that interacting with AI “is endlessly interesting to children in different ways at different ages. And there hasn’t been a lot of talk about how this is going to be used developmentally, and I think we really need to put it a lot more effort into that.”

Pamela Pavliscak agrees. She’s a futurist and a professor at Pratt Institute who focuses on our emotional relationships with technology. In her research she’s found kids and teens already often see Alexa “as a friend of the family.”

“It’s occupying that weird space between a friend, a human friend, and something else. And I think for kids especially, their conception of that is so fluid.”

But, some of the FreeTime Unlimited subscription offerings, like trivia games and audiobooks, offer kids the opportunity to engage with the device solo for longer periods of time. And, Pavliscak says, “They might use that as a replacement for other kinds of relationships that might be more meaningful.”




Being a father of two, I know how kids interact with technology. Mainly via a time zapping wormhole that ensures their in a world of their own until somebody snaps them out of it! 

Using a smart speaker as a “Super Nanny” poses so many question, I can’t begin to discuss them all here. Who ensures Alexa is right in what it says? and that its responses fit your own family beliefs? What happens when your kids new best friend is better than the real ones at school? and finally what happens when adverts and corporate bias starts to creep in to the mix?


To me as a parent, this is really risky business. We have government agencies to protect kids from the influence of bad teaching and behaviours. What agency will be ‘policing’ smart speakers? 


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