Guest post by Charlie Fletcher
For parents, there’s perhaps no job more important than ensuring their child’s health, safety, and happiness. In this great age of technology, however, parents’ responsibility to preserve and protect their children can seem like a profoundly formidable task.
Perhaps the most significant, and the most intimidating, of these prolific innovations is artificial intelligence (AI). Now more than ever before, children are engaging with AI in myriad ways and throughout most every domain of daily life. Some even believe infants may be crucial to developing AI even further.
Parenting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
From education to entertainment, AI systems are part of many children’s daily lives. As ubiquitous and important as these technologies may be, however, they are not without their disadvantages. For this reason, parents must understand the role of AI in their children’s lives, both so they can leverage its benefits and mitigate its potential harms.
The Role of AI in Children’s Lives
In the aftermath of the digital revolution, AI has assumed a prominent position in seemingly everything, from healthcare to academia to business.
AI-based machine learning, for instance, is revolutionizing medical practice by enabling truly personalised healthcare. AI-driven data analytics can process billions of health data points in seconds and derive from them evidence-based solutions specifically tailored to the patient’s needs. Through the power of AI, pediatric healthcare providers are better equipped than ever before to devise preventative care and treatment protocols based on your child’s specific health history.
In the realm of education, AI technologies can support responsive, individualised learning by adapting in real-time to a child’s particular educational needs and aptitudes. Machine-based learning, for instance, leverages the responsive capabilities of AI to automatically adjust task difficulty levels based on the continuous analysis of the student’s responses. The result is not only a more accurate assessment of a child’s content mastery and academic needs, but also a more personalised, and therefore more engaging, learning experience.
In addition to adaptive learning and testing, AI systems can also offer children extraordinary immersive learning experiences. Of the many new trends influencing education, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are among the most exciting. They make use of AI to create extraordinarily realistic simulations which can be used to help children learn through virtual experiences.
Such simulations, for instance, can be used to teach children about marine biology by bringing them “face to face” with a blue whale in its underwater habitat. Similarly, they can provide students with an unforgettable leap into ancient history by simulating a gladiatorial contest at the Roman Colosseum.
Schools and clinics are far from the only arena in which children interact with AI systems. These technologies are now prevalent in the commercial sector. Businesses make frequent use of AI to streamline their operations. Chatbots are a particularly common tool that can be used to engage with both employees and with customers.
That means that if your child spends any amount of time online (and what child doesn’t?), the odds are strong that, at some point, they have engaged with an AI-powered chatbot, particularly when shopping or gaming.
Managing Children’s Contact With AI
For all of the beneficial uses of AI in the modern child’s life, there are also potential dangers and risks. It’s entirely possible, for example, for children to become so immersed in the digital realm that they struggle to develop relationships in the real world.
Children need the social bonds that only in-person connections with other humans can provide. This is especially true when it comes to the nurturing of a parent or caregiver. AI technologies are threatening to usurp this critical role, with an increasing number of parents and caregivers reporting that they would feel comfortable with an AI providing nursing care for their sick child.
This can set a dangerous precedent for children who are still learning to understand the world and how it works. Without proper education, children may find it difficult to differentiate between intelligent technologies and humans. Teaching children about AI, including how it works and how it can seem so “human,” can help children become more informed and discerning consumers of technology.
Modelling Good Tech Use
In addition to helping children learn about how AI technologies work, they should also be educated on how these technologies should be used.
Parents play a vital role in helping children to establish healthy boundaries and behaviours, especially when it comes to the importance of technology in their lives. Parents are, after all, a child’s first and best role model. Thus, when they see their parents limiting their screen time and setting their devices aside when someone enters the room, they quickly learn that humans matter more and deserve more attention than machines.
Artificial intelligence systems are an inevitable part of daily life for virtually everyone, including children. AI technologies have been instrumental in improving things that directly impact children, like education and healthcare. However, these innovations are not without their disadvantages, particularly regarding their impact on children’s social, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
For this reason, parents must understand the risks and rewards of AI in their children’s lives and take steps to minimize the former while maximizing the latter.
Bio: Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer passionate about workplace equity, and whose published works cover sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.
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