Never mind being copycats, kids are copying robots

Lifestyle

Never mind being copycats, kids are copying robots

A new study shows children are easily swayed by digital toys or assistants like Siri and Alexa

Joseph Archer

Children can be easily swayed into changing their opinions by robots, according to new research which raises questions over the ethics of artificial intelligence.
In tests by academics at the University of Plymouth in the UK, children aged between seven and nine were more likely to give the same responses as their robot companions, even when it was clear that suggestions made by the robots were wrong.
“What our results show is that adults do not conform to what the robots are saying. But when we did the experiment with children, they did,” said Tony Belpaeme, a professor in robotics at Plymouth.
With children now having far more interaction with digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, the results raise concerns that young people could be subject to peer pressure from machines.“It shows children can perhaps have more of an affinity with robots than adults, which does pose the question: what if robots were to suggest, for example, what products to buy or what to think?” asked Belpaeme.
The research compared how adults and children behaved in a research test known as the Asch paradigm. This was first developed in the 1950s and involves people picking out lines that have the same length when shown a group of lines on a screen. 
When alone, people almost always get the answer right. However, when doing the experiment in groups, they tend to follow what others are saying.
When children were alone in the room while conducting the task, they scored 87% on the test. However, when the robots were there to influence their decisions, the score fell to 75%. Of the wrong answers, 74% matched those of the robot.The researchers said a debate needs to take place about protective measures designed to reduce the risk to children during interactions with robots. 
The study follows research in June which found children are starting to behave like robots because they are copying their toys.
The growing popularity of robo-toys that function as digital babysitters that comfort and interact with young children may strip children of their humanity, according to Kathleen Richardson, an ethics and robotics professor at De Montfort University in Leicester.
“If we put machines in the presence of our children they will start to imitate them,” she warned. “The less human contact children have the more they start to emulate the behaviour of what is being put in front of them, especially if these machines are mimicking the act of being friends or interacting socially.”
- © The Daily Telegraph

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