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Artificial Intelligence and Smart Home Devices

This article indicates that smart home devices and artificial intelligence (AI) pose new opportunities and challenges for parents, caregivers and children.

Smart home devices and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming increasingly available to families.  Marketed as tools for convenience, they pose new opportunities and challenges for parents, caregivers and children.   

What are these devices exactly?   

AI refers to technological devices that can adapt to “think” and “learn.”  Smart home devices include appliances, lighting, electronics, etc. that can be controlled remotely, often through an app.  These devices seem to be the way of the future but as with any new technology, parents should engage in critical thinking before and after purchase.

  • How can they impact your child’s privacy and development?
  • How can they save you time and make your day-to-day routine run smoother?
  • Are they worth it? 

Before purchasing one of these devices, parents should discuss their family media parameters.  It is never too early to have a discussion about how you want your family to use technology or be represented on technological devices, or even what type of technology to use.  Parents and caregivers can perform simple online research by entering the name of the device to be researched.  

So, for example, search ‘baby monitors,’ ‘video surveillance,’ ‘drones’ ‘robots,’ ‘connected toys,’ ‘smart homes’ or even ‘smart cities’ to learn about the risks and benefits of these devices.  Research will also help parents learn how to reduce the risks of hackers getting into their system and also learn how these devices and programs may affect their children.  

Parents might also find home assistants to be extremely useful around the home.  The main benefits of home assistants such as Alexa, Google Home and Siri are convenience and time-saving and the future of technology seems to indicate that they are here to stay.  It would thus be worthwhile to learn how to use home assistants safely and responsibly while also protect privacy and data of your family.   It may be particularly worthwhile learning how to use a device, before installation near your baby’s crib or allowing your children to “interact” with it.  Data protection and privacy concerns are of paramount importance for these types of devices. 

Different AI devices have the capabilities to make parents lives more convenient.  Some can help create grocery lists or distract your child with music and games while you are engaged in another activity.  However, there are always things that can go wrong: unapproved account access, inadvertently sharing personal information, children using the devices inappropriately and so forth.   

What are the pros and cons you should consider before adding a device to your home?   

Here is a quick-list of some of the negatives associated with these devices: 

  • Children can purchase items without your consent, if you do not change certain settings.  Even though setting up parental controls can help with this (and other issues), if you have particularly tech savvy kids, these are not necessarily 100% effective. 

  • There are developmental and social risks for children who grow up using home assistants, such as the Alexa app.  This is partly because they will need to adapt their language to the device’s capabilities, which includes curt “conversations” and demands.  If you find that your young children are becoming too authoritative for your taste, that might be the reason why (or they might also just have an authoritative teacher at school). 

  • Many devices allow for “drop-in” capabilities, so that you can let your kids upstairs know that dinner is ready or check in on elderly relatives.  However, this also means that someone can “drop-in” during inappropriate or inconvenient times without your knowledge or permission. 

  • It is possible that your children will become too dependent on these types of devices.  Whether it is homework help, getting basic things done around the house, or just the capability to be bored from time-to-time, these are all simple things that children should be learning how to do, progressively on their own.  If they are always turning to a smart device to help them, they can be missing out on valuable skills that can help them later in life. 

  • Privacy is also a major concern.  With some devices there have been concerns regarding the collection of sensitive information and there is also the fact that even when they are off, they still turn back on at the sound of a command, so technically were they ever actually off?  Some people express concerns over the parallel between having a home assistant and having their home bugged.  What can or will an always-listening device record?  Whether or not these potential breaches in privacy are acceptable is of course for you to decide.

There are many smart devices to choose from and many pros and cons to consider.  Regardless of which devices you decide to purchase (or not), remember to encourage your family to unplug together and enjoy quality family time on a regular basis.  Convenience and technology are nice but nothing beats face-to-face conversations with family members, or other activities that you do together. 

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