Latest Absurd Moral Panic: Parents Complain Amazon Echo Is Creating Rude Children
from the I'm-sorry-I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept
It wouldn’t be a month at Techdirt without one group or another engaging in a fit of moral hysteria over something they really don’t need to spend precious calories worrying about. Whether it’s the false claim that video games create deadly assassins, VR makes us slaves to Mark Zuckerberg, smartphones have demolished cultural civility or having Google at our fingertips makes us dumber, there’s always something new to waste time having a hissy fit over.
The latest case in point is Amazon’s smart home play known as the Amazon Echo, a glorified speaker PC combo that will take voice commands, play music, or tell you the weather when asked — all useful but not exactly revolutionary fare. Still, an unspecified number of parents are apparently now worried that the Echo AI (Alexa) is turning their children into nasty little savages:
“But while artificial intelligence technology can blow past such indignities, parents are still irked by their kids? poor manners when interacting with Alexa, the assistant that lives inside the Amazon Echo. ?I?ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,? says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. ?[Alexa] never says ?That was rude? or ?I?m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.’?
At this point a concerned parent could do several things, the most sensible being to tell their child to stop yelling at the cheap, plastic, defenseless computer. But no, apparently some parents believe something must be done — because the cheap plastic computer doesn’t say “please” often enough:
“The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn?t exactly reward niceties like ?please.? Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker?s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct?curt even. ?If it?s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,? says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai. For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.”
This is, I think we can all agree, well beyond “disconcerting” and far into nightmare territory. Imagine, millions of homes in which little monsters are being created daily because Amazon didn’t make Alexa…nicer and more verbose. Truly a concern for the ages:
“For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting. ?One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,? says Greengart, ?and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.? It?s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as ?magical? while expressing fears it?s ?turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”
One, there’s an assumption here that a child can’t really differentiate between a computer and a human being, and that a few months with the Amazon Echo somehow demolishes all previous years of social training, which on its face is more than a little absurd. Two, if you’re truly concerned that a little plastic computer is turning your child into a drunk, socially-incompetent werewolf, you could — turn the product off? As with all moral hysteria of this type, actual parenting can go a long way toward dulling technology’s clearly nefarious and diabolical influence in the home.