Study: Smart Assistants May Hamper Development

John Lister's picture

Two researchers say voice controlled "assistant" devices could harm children's development. The claims are more of a warning than proven results at this stage.

The claims come from Ananya Arora and Anmol Arora, both of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge. They were writing in the publication Archives of Diseases in Childhood. (Source:

The pair say they have three main fears about the uses of devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, along with Apple's Siri. In all three cases, the researchers say it appears some parents may have mistaken the devices as helping language development by engaging in "conversation" with children.

Dubious Responses

The first fear is simply that the responses to questions may be inappropriate and even unsafe. The researchers cite a recent incident where a child asked an Alexa device for a suggestion for a fun activity. The device, having misunderstood the context of a page warning against a craze among children, told her to touch a live power plug with a coin. (Source:

The second fear is that such devices could actually harm the child's social and speech development. That's partly because the devices don't respond or reinforce manners and social cues, for example saying please when making requests or thank you when getting a response. (Coincidentally, the Alexa system will acknowledge when a child says please).

Critical Thinking Curtailed

Finally, the researchers fear children who get automatic and concise answers from the devices may not develop important reasoning skills. That's partly because the child isn't asked to provide context or engage in conversation, and partly because the child doesn't need to look at multiple responses and learn skills such as judging credibility and handling ambiguity.

It's important to note that the researchers are not claiming any of these fears are proven or that the potential risks have come to pass. Instead they say there's enough evidence to justify their argument that "urgent research is required into the long-term consequences for children interacting with such devices."

What's Your Opinion?

Do you agree with the claims? Should manufacturers take responsibility for how such devices could affect children? Is this a parenting issue more than a tech issue?

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Chief's picture

In today's society, there are seemingly safety rails for everything.
Except technology.

We have forgotten how to live in a dangerous world and our children have no clue as to how dangerous technology can be.

pctyson's picture

Sadly, parents are allowing these things to do their job for them. These devices have no discernment or inherent responsibility in them nor should they. This is a parents job and they are ultimately responsible. I have even heard a parent complain that their child is on their devices WAY TOO MUCH (parent provided the emphasis). It took everything in me to say "well WHO bought the device for your child, who pays the monthly fees, and who is responsible for the childs use of it?"

davolente_10330's picture

Couldn't agree more but it's not just kids that need to come off the damn tech. I drive a lot for my job and see zombie-like mothers glued to either their phone or game screen, pushing a baby buggy, completely oblivious to a slightly older child tagging along some distance behind, quite often also staring at a screen of some sort. It's obvious the mother has absolutely no notion of the child's whereabouts. I can vouch for this, as I have very nearly bowled over the odd one or two, when they deviate from the pavement or run out into the road without being restrained. Parents of this ilk should be arrested and charged with endangerment, or whatever is appropriate.