Amazon unveils Alexa for kids… and there’s a lot at stake for them to get it right

On May 9, Amazon will release the Echo Dot Kids Edition, complete with kid-friendly responses, and rewards for good manners... and we have some concerns.

April 27, 2018

On May 9, Amazon will release the Echo Dot Kids Edition — which is, as it sounds, a child-friendly version of its popular voice assistant, Alexa.The hardware itself looks almost identical, save for a protective case and beefed-up warranty. But, the software comes with additional features, like more forgiving recognition of its name for kids who can’t pronounce ‘Alexa’ yet, plus parental controls to turn off swearing and monitor usage.

The way this version of Alexa interacts with kids is different, too

According to Buzzfeed News, Alexa will reward kids for good manners (like saying “please”).It will also temper its response to sensitive questions like “Where do babies come from?” (A: “People make people.”) and “Why are kids mean to me?” (A: “People bully, or are mean, for many different reasons. Bullying feels bad and is never OK.”)*Pause to collect yourself after picturing that heartbreaking scenario*

The implications are massive

In both scenarios above, Alexa also tells kids to talk to a trusted grown-up, but there’s no question it would play a pivotal role in the development of a child who regularly interacts with it.Whereas Facebook doesn’t have access to kids until they turn 14 (the age limit to create an FB account), Amazon will theoretically have access to kids from birth — long before they can even read or write.For kids that grow up with the device, Alexa will theoretically have a record of everything they’ve asked or listened to. And, as Amazon says on their site, “She’s always getting smarter.”

AI for kids hasn’t gone over well in the past

Last year, Mattel was forced to cancel production on Aristotle, its Echo-like device for kids, after 15k parents, psychologists, and privacy experts signed a petition to keep them from releasing it to the public.It’s TBD whether Amazon will face similar backlash, or if kids will soon grow up with their own AI Mary Poppins.

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