More AI Books, Not AI Toys! – Teaching Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Children Starts at Home
Today, our children grow up in an increasingly digital age in which technology fills every part of their lives. From smart toys and social media networks to the classroom and home, artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere in children’s everyday lives.
There are hundreds of artificial intelligence toys that are befriending children around the world. Many toymakers insist they are educational, improving play, and genuinely assisting children in developing social skills. Like many other devices we use daily, these smart toys are connecting our children to the internet, and that might put security and privacy at risk.
Our children today are the first real generation to grow up with AI everywhere. They are young observers of a world in which almost any question being answered, items being purchased, and impulse being fulfilled by voice commands like; “Alexa, order paper towel,” or “Ok, Google, remind me to buy strawberries at Trader Joe’s this afternoon,” or “Hey Siri, send a text to grandma to ask what time is her doctor’s appointment?”
These cool technologies raise serious questions about how our children interact with them, with other children, and how it might shape their interactions and development as they grow up. And since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the significant concerns of every parent is to reduce using technology or screen time.
I am a firm believer in reading real books for children. We need to remember something fundamental with our children, that we cannot let anything come in between the human conversation. So before giving the latest smartphone, smart tablet, or AI toy to our children, we should talk to them about AI. That’s why we have designed an AI Picture Book Series for Children. Just look at parents reading physical books to their kids; they break when they turn the pages and sometimes play around or go off on side stories about how they once saw monkeys at the zoo or in the jungle. I believe this back and forth conversation with little kids is the best way they can learn about AI subject matters such as:
How AI Sees the World
How AI Makes Choices
How AI Learns
How AI can change the World
How We Work with AI
I am an enthusiast of AI education for children. Still, we need to keep in mind that our interactions with devices like Google Home, Siri, or Amazon Echo are not real or authentic conversations at all, even though these devices are meant as conversation agents. We must keep in mind that our interactions with smart devices are truly superficial and lack most of the person-to-person conversation hallmarks.
Today smart devices are nowhere near the sophistication of a human, or more specifically, the complexity of parents who can naturally coach their children in picking up their first language.
The truth is that Alexa, Siri, Google Home, and so many other smart devices, or I should say the growing feature of AI may not be the healthiest relationship for our children. Still, its presence will surely be long-lasting.
We owe it to our children not only to help them understand and utilize the powerful tools of AI but also to thoughtfully weigh its moral and social implications early on.
Our children should have the right to be AI-educated so they can thrive intellectually, emotionally, and morally alongside AI. In the next decade or so, for most children, AI will be their co-workers, drivers, insurance agents, customer service representatives, bank tellers, receptionists, radiologists, in short, a natural part of their lives. We hope that the AI Picture Book series can help our children transform them from a passive spectator of technology disruption to active participants of positive change in their local communities and the world.