Google Home, Alexa, Siri… Voice assistants are now part of our daily lives. In France, in particular, pMore than one in two French people use one daily. A phenomenon that questions many researchers about the long-term repercussions in terms of memorization and autonomy, especially for children.
Two researchers from the University of Cambridge have just published a study on this subject in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood (source 1). In particular, they reveal that voice assistants could slow down the social and emotional development of children.
Voice assistants can act as friends and help improve children’s reading and communication skills. However, they raise concerns about the long-term effects on the brains of children at a crucial stage in their development.
Inappropriate or dangerous responses
Their work focuses in particular inappropriate or even dangerous responses voice assistants. “During a recent interaction between a child and the assistant Alexathe device suggested to a 10-year-old girl to try to touch a socket with a coin”, alert the researchers. And to emphasize: “It is difficult to enforce robust parental controls on these devices without seriously affecting their functionality”.
In the longer term, these devices could also affect children’s empathy, compassion and critical thinking. Not to mention that they could reduce their learning abilities.
“A poor method of learning social interaction”
Another issue, the researchers observed, was that children tended to see voice assistants as beings with feelings, even if they are aware that they remain machines. “Requiring forms of politeness, such as ‘please’ or ‘hello’, when interacting with devices may increase the risk that children will make the device appear or behave human. “, warn the researchers.
According to them, the tone of voice is not taken into account by voice assistants during the exchange, which poses a problem of politeness and good manners: the child cannot tell if his tone is rude or obnoxious. “The lack of ability to engage in non-verbal communication makes the use of these devices a poor method of learning social interaction. Whereas in real human interactions, a child would typically receive feedback constructive if it behaved inappropriately, it goes beyond the scope of a smart device”, they worry.
Published on September 27, this study is the subject of debate within the scientific community. “This academic paper provides no new evidence of the impact of voice assistants on children. This is an opinion piece, with much of its argument based on news reports and anecdotal evidence, and that cites very little scientific evidence. The impacts of voice assistants are likely mixed and very dependent on how they are used by children,” said program manager Dr. Amy Orben. track scientist from the University of Cambridge, to the magazine Bloomberg (source 2).
A conclusion shared by Dr Caroline Fitzpatrick, interviewed by the British daily The Guardian: “as long as parents stay within the recommended limits for children, I don’t think there is cause for alarmr” (source 3).