Alexa Kids

Kids Don’t Trust Voice Assistants: Study

Children will trust their teacher over Alexa or Google Assistant, according to a growing body of research noted in a report from Technology Review. Kids like to push voice assistants to see what they know, but they are skeptical about its reliability.

Kids Quiz AI

Young children instinctively test the world around them, including the adults in their lives, looking for answers and forming opinions about who and what is reliable. In one study about where children place their trust, researchers asked a group of kids between five and eight-years-old questions with answer options attributed to different sources. The study found that the kids were much more likely to pick the answer that supposedly came from their teacher as opposed to the internet. More notably, they preferred answers from a peer over the internet, despite understanding that another child isn’t likely to have more information than they already possess.

The scientists hypothesized that the children trust people over a disembodied voice because people are tangible and it’s easy to imagine other people having the information you lack. The vague idea of the internet or a voice from nowhere as a source of knowledge takes practice. That’s part of why studies show that kids like to ask voice assistants a barrage of questions, pushing them to see if they know about magical animals in particular.

Voice Assistants Learning to Speak With Kids

The innate distrust kids have for voice assistants may also be due to how AI is rarely calibrated for children. Kids speak differently from adults and voice assistants don’t always understand what they are saying, let alone know how to respond in a way the child will trust. A child that feels like a voice assistant doesn’t understand what they are saying isn’t going to believe the response they get. There’s an effort to address that aspect of connecting children with voice assistants. Irish startup SoapBox Labs was founded to do just that, creating programs to teach voice assistants to understand what children are saying. The company uses deep learning technology to build algorithms that voice platforms can use to train to speak with children.

Voice technology that can understand and respond appropriately to kids is a growing market. Amazon and Google have both been working on building up voice apps and devices for children, such as the Echo Dot Kids Edition and the My Story Time Google Action and third-party toy manufacturers are designing smart toys that can be controlled by a voice assistant. But, even with voice assistants that kids see as reliable, developers will have to grapple with the problem of privacy. Many parents are wary of what recordings might be made of their children, leading to several lawsuits regarding violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Getting kids to trust voice assistants is crucial, but the real trick will be getting parents to trust the technology.


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