No one can deny that technology like computers, smartphones, and video games have had an impact on children’s development. So as digital assistants like Siri and Alexa become more popular, they will likely also have a significant effect on children. The question is, what will that effect be?

As seen in this vialogue, some people think that digital assistants have a positive effect on young children, making them more articulate and teaching them to form specific questions. But others, such as Professor Rachel Severson, caution that there could be negative consequences as well. For instance, when children have conversations with stuffed animals and dolls, they do so with their imagination, and playing make-believe has been shown to be very important to child development. But with digital assistants and other robots, children have conversations where they don’t use their imagination. These assistants are not quite animate, and not quite inanimate, and researchers aren’t sure what that means for children as they interact with these objects.

Do you think interacting with digital assistants has a positive or negative effect on child development? Join the ongoing discussion on Vialogues.

Excerpts from the discussion:

@03:53 Rebecca Sullivan: It seems scary to me that a young child could consider Alexa a person. What makes someone a person? Is it talking and answering questions or something more? AI in the home might provide opportunities to answer these questions.

@04:58 Melanie Hering: The concern that Alexa will somehow reduce children's creativity and imaginative play seems like a misreading of the situation. The previous interview already suggests that kids know Alexa serves a specific purpose, one focused on answering questions. She's not something you turn to when you want to have a conversation, or imagine a series of events - that's the role filled by stuffed animals and dolls. I feel like if anything, Alexa can increase a child's creativity by giving them more knowledge to use to make their imaginative play more complex and even more creative.