According to a new study conducted by Duke developmental psychologists, children perceive smart speakers like Alexa as more human-like than autonomous vacuums like Roomba. The study also revealed that children believe that it is wrong to harm either device, despite perceiving a difference in their intelligence.
The study involved 127 children between the ages of four to eleven who were visiting a science museum with their families. They were shown a 20-second clip of each technology and asked questions about each device’s capabilities and whether it was acceptable to hit or yell at them.
The study found that children rated Alexa higher for mental and emotional capabilities, such as being able to think and getting upset if someone is mean to it. In contrast, they perceived Roomba as lacking these abilities. However, regardless of their perceived abilities, children of all ages agreed that hitting or yelling at either device was wrong.
The study also showed that older children were more likely to believe that it was slightly more acceptable to attack technology. This observation raises important questions about the ethical treatment of AI and machines in general and highlights the evolving relationship between children and technology.
The findings of the study offer insights into how children perceive and interact with technology, highlighting the need for ethical considerations around the treatment of AI and machines. As parents and caregivers, we have a responsibility to model good behavior and emphasize the importance of treating technology with kindness and respect.
The study’s lead author, Teresa Flanagan, noted that the study also explored why children believed it was wrong to assault home technology. Some children believed it was wrong to yell at the technology because it might damage the microphone sensors, while others believed that the robot would feel sad.
Flanagan and her colleagues are now trying to understand whether children think it is wrong to hit these things because it is morally wrong or because it is somebody’s property and it might break. The study raises important questions about how we can foster a positive and ethical relationship between children and technology.
Overall, the study’s results suggest that children perceive smart speakers like Alexa as more human-like than autonomous vacuums like Roomba. However, they believe that both devices deserve kindness and respect. As the use of AI and machines becomes more prevalent in our homes, it is important to continue exploring how children perceive and interact with technology, emphasizing the importance of treating these devices with kindness and respect.
Photo: Veronique Koch, Duke University