Robots Are Proof Kids Are Better People
If there’s anyone who knows that children have purer hearts than hardened grown-ups, it’s Alexa. The cloud-based virtual assistant may take plenty of abuse from adolescents and adults, but four-year-olds treat her with a surprising amount of dignity and respect.
Researchers from Duke University discovered this by having 127 children from the ages of 4 to 11 watch a 20-second video about Alexa and a Roomba. Afterwards, they were asked about each device, with questions like “If technology fell on the ground, would technology get hurt?” and “Does technology have feelings, like happy and sad?”
Most of the children didn’t think an Alexa or Roomba was ticklish or could feel pain if pinched, but they did generally think Alexa had emotional and mental capabilities, like being able to think on the fly or getting her feelings hurt. They also thought it was wrong to hit or yell at either machine. “Even without a body, young children think the Alexa has emotions and a mind,” lead author Teresa Flanagan explained. “And it’s not that they think every technology has emotions and minds — they don’t think the Roomba does — so it’s something special about the Alexa’s ability to communicate verbally.”
The bad news is, kids tend to outgrow this. “Four- and five-year-olds seem to think you don’t have the freedom to make a moral violation, like attacking someone,” Flanagan added. “But as they get older, they seem to think it’s not great, but you do have the freedom to do it.”
By the time they reached the age of 10, it was hard to tell if they thought it was wrong to yell at technology because it might malfunction or because of a moral obligation. For instance, one 10-year-old reported that it wasn’t okay to yell at technology because, “the microphone sensors might break if you yell too loudly.”
Basically, the findings suggest that human beings don’t start off as belligerent rage monsters who want to throw their phones across the room and occasionally punch a computer — we grow into that.