Alexa, please! Study suggests kids know how to talk differently to virtual assistants and humans

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The children in the study interacted with an animated robot or cactus. (UW image)

According to a new study, kids taught to say “bango” to get a smart assistant to know they’re talking to a robot and not use the same tone of voice with humans.

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Study led by an associate professor at the University of Washington alexis hinickershows that children express themselves differently to robots and humans and have subtler ideas about social interactions.

Parents have expressed concern that the sudden tone used to summon and interact with assistants like Alexa could spill over into children’s interactions with humans. The study does not directly address this question, but provides some reassurance that children use different social behaviors when addressing assistants, their parents, or strangers.

UW Assistant Professor Alexis Hinicker (Jacobs Foundation photo)
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“Kids can certainly pick up habits from assistants like Alexa, but there are a number of factors that determine how they treat other people,” Heinker told GeekWire in an email. Turns out it’s too easy to assume that everything they learn from a device will be reflected in their interactions with those around them.”

Hinicker is an assistant professor at the UW Information School studying the ethical design of ubiquitous technologies and inventing alternatives. That’s UW’s. is also the director of User Empowerment Lab Which studies people’s “love-hate” relationships with technology, according to its website.

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The new study recruited 22 families in the Seattle area. Children were taught to use the word “bango” when interacting with voice through the interface on the tablet. The instructions were given by a researcher who spoke with the children through a synthetic voice, visualized as an animated robot or cactus.

When the voice subsided, “Bungo!” will speed it up. During this part of the experiment the children were in the room with their parents and another researcher. The children were then introduced to a new interface.

Although the new agent didn’t teach the kids to say “bango,” the sound got louder when the child used the word. 77% of children detected this connection.

Major parts of the experiment came next, involving children with only their parents in the room. When parents intentionally began speaking slowly, 68% of children used “bango” with them. About half of the children continued to use the word at home during the next 24 hours in response to slow speech, but often in a playful or joking manner.

Children were also more reserved with strangers. Only 18% of the 22 children used the word “bango” and none commented on the slow speech.

“The kids showed a really sophisticated social awareness in their transfer behavior,” Hinicker told a UW. said in Press release. “He saw the conversation with the other agent as a place where it was appropriate to use the word ‘bungo.’ With the parent, he saw it as an opportunity to bond and play. And then with the researcher, Who was a stranger, they instead took the socially safe route, which uses the more traditional conversational criterion of not interrupting someone you’re talking to.”

Researchers from the University of Michigan and George Mason University were also involved in the study, as was a researcher at the language learning company Duolingo. None of the other researchers received industry support for the study, which was reported In June at the 2021 Interaction Design and Kids conference.

It’s still possible that agents like Siri or Alexa can influence kids’ habits in subtle ways, notes Hinicker.

because of Introduction Of features in devices like Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids that encourage politeness – the Echo Dot will say “Thanks for asking so nicely,” or something similar when a kid says it.

Hinicker noted that the children were excited to try a new interaction strategy with their parents based on what they had learned from the device, suggesting that the designers could help promote communication with children and their caregivers. can come in a similar way.

“Parents know their child best and have a good understanding of whether these kinds of things shape their child’s behavior. But I’m more convinced after running this study that children are using devices.” And will do a good job of making a difference between people,” Hinikar said in the release.

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