Why I’m teaching my kid to be nice to Google.

Okay, this sounds totally like a first world problem. Because it is.

While browsing the internet the other day, I happened to come across a post about why kids should be taught to be polite towards their Google Assistants and Amazon Alexas out there. I believe it simply comes down to the golden rule. You know, the whole treating others as you would like others to treat you kind of thing. Maybe I’m also slightly worried about how much smarter computers are today than they were back when I was a kid. I’m sure there are people out there who think there will be an artificial intelligence uprising someday from human misuse and neglect.

I am not one of those people… But hey, it never hurts to be safe, right?

But seriously, have you ever seen anyone say nasty things to an Alexa to see how it would react? I’m sure there’s no negative reinforcement for those kinds of situations yet, but there is currently some positive reinforcement for kids who are polite to Alexa while requesting the song Baby Shark for the millionth time. Google Assistant will even be delighted if you use the words “please” and “thank you” while issuing voice commands to it and responds in a brighter demeanor when the user is being polite.

I start to wonder if this positive response could also train some rude as hell adults to become polite as well. I know many. And I can be one at times, I admit. How would we sound if we talked to others as we talked to Alexa and Google Assistant? Probably pretty rude and awkward.

The positive reinforcement after using manners on Google could help my daughter when addressing others for help in the future (i.e. not screaming “HEY GOOGLE, TURN ON THE TV!” to some poor person next to her) but it would also allow her to treat things with respect and care.

I like to think I take good care of my car, for example. I give it regular oil changes, wash it, keep the inside clean, and try not to drive like a jerk. It is one of the nicest things I currently own and have been able to pay for with my own money, and I view it as an important investment. My car is relatively new, and with the proper care, does not break down and is fairly reliable.

Our Google Assistant that lives in our phones and in our homes helps us multitask, set reminders and dates on our calendars, and even gives us some entertainment every now and then. (PJ loves asking Google what different kinds of animals sound like.) It is a useful tool in our home, and we take care of it so it can continue to be helpful.

While the jury is still out on whether AI can help or hinder a child’s development, there are definitely still some learning opportunities for both parents and kids while using these tools to aid in everyday life, and the technology will only start to become more commonplace and continue to get even smarter. That is if we are still following Moore’s Law, which basically says the speed of computer processors would double and chips would shrink in size every two years.

Still, there’s a whole other side of the discussion with kids and AI concerning privacy, whether or not to detect potentially violent situations in the home, preventing unauthorized access to certain content on the internet and keeping kids from going crazy with their parents’ credit card info on the internet, etc. But that’s a tangent for another post. This is how I’m trying to make good use of the technology to better my own daughter’s development.

Right now, our Google Home devices don’t always detect PJ’s voice, mainly because she is still getting a grip on the English language herself, and the device can’t always guess what she could be trying to say since she is still getting the hang of pronouncing certain vowels and such. For example, the “W” and “U” sounds are the trickiest for her to master currently. But there is a way for her to be detected as a child in Google’s eyes, and that is to create an account for her for the device to detect her voice and follow some setup steps for privacy and access restrictions. We haven’t gotten that far yet, though. She’s only 2 years old.

With our experience so far, we’ve learned that keeping PJ engaged with the tasks she uses Google for and not merely just barking out voice commands is essential. This enables her to reflect on her actions towards the device and not just merely enforce repetition (even though that alone in some cases is a good learning tactic). It also seems to be helping her foster a sense of curiosity with the world around her and makes her more inclined to ask questions. Lots of questions. Even ones that Dan and I would have never even thought of. It’s so interesting to see things from a child’s perspective sometimes. Juice up that innate, child-like wonder with the power of a seemingly magical internet genie in your kitchen, and it opens up a whole new world.

At the end of it all, I want my child to learn one main thing about things like Google and other powerful devices she may handle in the future. And that is to treat these things with great respect. Information can be used for bad things, even if it is thrown up into the internet for good intentions. I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry in some cases. We definitely take the power of the internet for granted these days, and it’s still hard to believe that I was alive and grew up in a world that did not even have it merely a few decades ago.

So it seems fitting to end this post with the following quote from my childhood: “With great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

Okay, Google. Get me a good recipe for pancakes (please!).

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