Okay Google, Are you parenting our children? Psychologists weigh in on the latest advancements


Since technology began saturating our world, there has been a worry that it could replace human interaction and limit available opportunities, but it wasn’t until last week that Amazon and Google announced that they are using virtual assistants to help children mind their p’s and q’s. The line between human and machine became blurred with Google introducing Duplex, the human sounding ai. Now the question is being raised on what effects this will have on young minds since they have more trouble distinguishing what is and isn’t real.

Wired interviewed Psychologists to get their take on how these new features could impact children.


Developmental psychologist Justine Cassell, director emeritus of Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and an expert in the development of AI interfaces for children says that kids excel at dividing the world into categories. As long as they continue to separate humans from machines, she says, there’s no need to worry.

Cassel says what we should be worried about isn’t necessarily politeness, but disclosure, artificial intelligences should be designed to identify themselves as such.

If a clear distinction is made in the child’s mind between human and machine, there won’t be any need to teach kids to be polite to AI. Instead, they would be taught that the reason they should be polite is that people have feelings. “Because isn’t that actually what we want children to learn—not that everything that has a voice should be thanked, but that people have feelings?”


“I think it’s reasonable to ask if parenting will become a skill that, like Go or chess, is better performed by a machine,” says John Havens, executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems.

“What do we do if a kid starts saying: Look, I appreciate the parents in my house, because they put me on the map, biologically. But dad tells a lot of lame dad jokes. And mom is kind of a helicopter parent. And I really prefer the knowledge, wisdom, and insight given to me by my devices.”

“I think these tools can be awesome, and provide quick fixes to situations that involve answering questions and telling stories that parents might not always have time for,” Radesky, a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician and media researcher says. “But I also want parents to consider how that might come to displace some of the experiences they enjoy sharing with kids.”

“The fact is, very few of us sit down and talk with our kids about the social constructs surrounding robots and virtual assistants,” Radesky says. Perhaps that—more than whether their children says “please” and “thank you” to the smart speaker in the living room—is what parents should be thinking about.