Children’s Perception of Intelligent Technology: Alexa vs. Roomba and Ethical Considerations

Alexa and Roomba: How do Kids Perceive and Treat These Technologies?

A recent study conducted by Duke developmental psychologists explored how children perceive smart technologies such as Alexa and Roomba. The study found that children aged four to eleven perceive Alexa to have more human-like thoughts and emotions compared to Roomba, an autonomous vacuum. The findings, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, suggest that children do not believe in harming or yelling at either Alexa or Roomba.

Investigating Children’s Interactions with Smart Technologies

The study was inspired by the lead author, Teresa Flanagan, who observed how adults in movies and shows sometimes mistreat robots. Flanagan wanted to understand how children would interact with smart technologies. To conduct the study, Flanagan recruited 127 children aged four to eleven from a science museum. The children watched a short video clip of each technology and were asked questions about them.

Children’s Perceptions of Alexa and Roomba

The study revealed that children believed both Alexa and Roomba were not capable of feeling physical sensations like pain. However, children attributed mental and emotional capabilities to Alexa, such as the ability to think and get upset when treated poorly. Interestingly, children did not perceive the same emotional intelligence in Roomba.

The Ethical Treatment of AI and Machines

Regardless of the differences in perceived capabilities, children of all ages agreed that it is wrong to hit or yell at these technologies. However, as children grew older, they became more inclined to find it slightly more acceptable to attack technology.

These findings shed light on the evolving relationship between children and technology and raise important questions about the ethical treatment of AI and machines. Parents may consider modeling good behavior by treating smart technologies with respect. Flanagan and Kushnir, the researchers behind the study, are further exploring why children believe assaulting home technology is wrong. Some children cited concerns about damaging the technology or viewing it as someone’s property.

This study was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (SL-1955280, BCS-1823658).

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