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What to call robots

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 29 August 2019, 7:52 am

If you have a member of Generation Alpha in your house, then you might want to have a chat with them about what to call the friendly robot in their lives. It is an 'it', not a 'she' or 'he'.

Apparently, AI can confuse today's small children, who will be the first generation to grow up with robots as peers. Of course, AI confuses adults too, but we are supposed to be able to distinguish between the human and the human-made. Although, if you have a voice recognition device in your home you may find yourself adopting certain overlord tendencies. Shouting orders to play your favourite song du jour in a crisp voice hoping it will understand a Kiwi accent.

Generation Alpha is children born between 2010 and 2025. So, some of them have yet to arrive, but when they do, they are expected to account for two billion of the global population. By the time they leave the world in the next century they may very well have been to the Moon and Mars and it's entirely possible that some of them will have established holiday homes there. In the meantime, they have to grapple with AI in way that none of us have had to before.

"Children can become emotionally attached to robots. Most children aged 9 through 15 who interacted with a humanoid robot for 15 minutes said later they might go to it for comfort if they were feeling sad or lonely, and believed the robot could be their friend," notes an article in the Wall Street Journal, which is citing a 2012 study in Developmental Psychology.

It may be that in the past children who were finding real life a little tough would have a chat to a toy or their pet dog. The difference with a robot is that it talks back.

"A talking doll was able to persuade some children to change their answers to questions about how to treat peers, saying it's OK to tease another child, according to a 2018 study let by MIT researchers Randi Williams and Cynthia Breazeal, founder and director of the personal robots group at MIT's Media Lab. It wasn't clear whether children actually believed it was OK or were just testing the doll," the same WSJ article notes.

There is so much to unpick in that paragraph - MIT has a personal robot group, is that like a consciousness raising thing and if so, do they livestream the sessions? And how can you blame the robot for rubbish behaviour when there is a President who tweets really mean stuff about people every day?

But the main take-out is that robots aren't human, so don't get into the trap of referring to them as human. It's not only confusing for pre-schoolers - it throws us all. Also, there is a new Generation on the block called Alfa. Feels like a long way from X, and but good luck to them, starting all over again in a brave new world.



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