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.

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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 9:34am

    Oh these poor children, if only Amazon offered parents you could purchase to actively raise your children for you. They could tell them what is and isn't acceptable and save you from having to worry your child might be mean to someone because they didn't say please a computer.

    In other news... RAISE YOUR OWN FUCKING KIDS, STOP DEMANDING THE WORLD FIX THINGS SO YOU CAN AVOID LOOKING MEAN.

    If it upsets you that much, turn it off.
    The simplest answer, but they can't think of it.
    Its better to demand a huge corporation do things to make you happy, than to do it yourself.

    Alexa, please add common sense to these idiots carts with next day shipping.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    DannyB (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 9:45am

    What would make the parents happy?

    Maybe the Amazon Echo should have a small built in laser blaster for rude children?

    Would that feature enhancement make those parents happy?

    Perhaps, as long as the parents didn't have to do anything, including the extraordinary effort of clicking 'I Agree'.

    Maybe Echo isn't 'making' the kids into monsterous little savages, but is merely revealing that they already are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    AricTheRed (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 9:47am

    The dumb question of the week...

    Other than the specific parents cited in the refereed complaints about expensive garbage... Where are all of these concerned parents drilling manners in to their kids heads.

    I've not seen much evidence they exist. I mean, just look at the monster my parents created!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    DannyB (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 9:48am

    Re:

    Alexa: I'm sorry Dave, common sense is out of stock and on backorder until 2038.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Michael, 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:06am

    ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'

    What asshat says that to their child? Word it a little better rather than being rude at the same time you discourage a child from asking about something they do not understand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    John85851 (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:08am

    What is "turn it off"?

    What is this phrase "turn it off" you speak of?

    Since the early days of TV (or even radio), some parents would rather petition the government to "do something" rather than just turn the computer or TV or radio off.
    If you don't want your kids listening to it, then turn it off, but don't make everyone else suffer for your lack of parenting.

    The second issue is this: I would argue that the Amazon Echo is actually doing a good job with kids. Children should know not to be rude to their parents or adults so they're playing with the Echo to see what happens.
    And if parents think the kids will learn more about manners from the Echo than from mom and dad, then there's a much bigger problem, called "responsible parenting".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Blaine (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:09am

    Wow, this thing is smart!

    Me: Alexa, if the daughter of Avi Greengart is a "raging asshole", who's fault is it?

    Alexa: It would be Avi Greengart's fault, but I'm sure Avi Greengart will blame me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    McFortner (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:10am

    Poor parenting is the reason behind rude children. Parents may helicopter their kids these days, but they sure don't correct or discipline them. So stop blaming somebody else and start taking responsibility for your actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Blaine (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:11am

    I wish I could watch when his daughter is googling herself and finds the quote from her dad.

    “turning our daughter into a raging asshole."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    AnonJr (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:15am

    Re:

    I think Thomas Paine is a bit above the literacy level of those making the complaint.

    On the other hand it's surely in the public domain and could be sent to their Kindle at no extra cost...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    AnonJr (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:16am

    Re: Re:

    Oh, wait, that's probably depriving the Paine Estate of valued royalties and disincentivizing further publications. Never mind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:44am

    Great, Millenial parents are falling into the same mental trap that Boomer and Gen X parents have: the belief that well rounded children just sort of magically happen to people. The answer to every "what are our children becoming?" question is "what you raised them to be".

    Your children have no manners because you did not teach them manners. Your children disrespect authority because you taught them to. Your children spend too much time at the table on their phones/tablets because you taught them that was ok.

    Parent your children. Parent your children. Parent your children. PARENT YOUR DAMN CHILDREN.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:48am

    Parents who install always-on corporate surveillance devices in their homes, deserve whatever rudeness comes their way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    sorrykb (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 10:49am

    Nothing is stopping these parents from teaching their children to say "please" and "thank you" (including to Alexa).

    It could be fun, though (possibly in a trolly sort of way), to create an Alexa or Siri-like system that required the user to be polite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 11:03am

    Re:

    "Poor parenting is the reason behind rude children."

    Yes, because the children have no influence from anything other than their parents. They do not watch TV, do not surf the internet, have no friends, are home schooled and are not allowed to go anywhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 11:07am

    Re:

    manners .. what do you mean by this .. Kissing ass?
    disrespect authority .. sometimes this is the proper response.

    Am I to assume that you have children and that they are a perfect example of what all other parents should strive for?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    DogBreath, 10 Jun 2016 @ 11:13am

    So, the Addams Family had an Amazon Echo?

    The Addams Family (1991)

    Wednesday: May I have the salt?

    Morticia: What do we say?

    Wednesday: [sternly] Now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    David (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 11:19am

    I say Please to my Echo all the time

    I say please to Echo all the time, and it has no noticeable issues when I do. Actually, I think the Echo is rude, because I also thank her, and she never says "You're Welcome". Unless I say her trigger phrase again before thanking her.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 11:19am

    A solution avails

    So let's see. Kids are being rude to Amazon's Echo. Guns create polite society.* Solution: give guns to Amazon's Echo. Profit.

    *According to Jerry Henry: "And, it is amazing how friendly people are when standing next to an obviously armed person. An armed society is truly a polite society."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 11:40am

    Sadly this isn't surprising. Why actually parent when you can just blame tv, kids toys, radio, teachers and schools, Google, Amazon and so on for not raising your kids the way you think they should be raised.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 12:01pm

    Does the product description say "surrogate parent"? Didn't think so.

    Maybe said morally conscious parents should maybe actually parent, push for good manners, and stop relying on technology to keep their kids occupied.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re:

    All those things are under the control of the parents. If the TV/internet/friends/schools are a bad influence, it's the parents responsibility to deal with them. OOPS! I said the "R" word!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 12:28pm

    Re:

    Kid: Alexa, play Top 40 channel.
    Alexa: Ah, ah, AH! What's the magic word?
    Kid: Sledgehammer.
    Alexa: Playing Top 40 music.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, because the children have no influence from anything other than their parents. They do not watch TV, do not surf the internet, have no friends, are home schooled and are not allowed to go anywhere.

    Horse shit.

    It's not as if every generation before Millennials *didn't* have TV, friends or school competing as an influence with parents.

    And as far as the Internet, it has the same "Off" button as the TV does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Zonker, 10 Jun 2016 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Re:

    I LOLed. Great, now I have that "Sledgehammer" song stuck in my head.

    You too? You're welcome.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Re:

    I get the feeling you think I'm endorsing a mindset. I'm quoting without quoting common complaints about "kids these days".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 2:05pm

    And?

    Uh-oh. I own up to missing hearing the announcement that henceforth Alexa is mandatory in all residential properties. I confess, abjectly, I did not buy an Echo.

    But if I had I might look at writing an app for it that, if the kids did not treat it nicely, would allow it to ignore them or tell them that the current time is bedtime. (I am assuming the API allows apps to distinguish between users, IDK)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 2:26pm

    Re: Re:

    They have influences outside of their parents, the problem is that parents have abdicated their responsibility in being the adult instead deciding to have the village raise their children so they can be their friends and not their parent.

    If the kids are doing something they dislike, more often than not they bitch on FB or Twitter rather than say anything to the child. They wage war on corporations to do what they are unwilling to do themselves, raise their kids.

    The pendulum has swung way to far to the 'my kids will have it better than me at any cost' side... serious none of us had iPhones & iPads at 10. We convinced ourselves that the kids need these things, and to take them away would be child abuse if the child misuses it. Its better to scream at Apple for not stopping their child from bullying someone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 10 Jun 2016 @ 2:44pm

    See, the problem is and always has been the kids are smarter than the parents. They talk to a stupid machine as if it was just a stupid machine, because it is just a stupid machine. And the parents just don't get it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 4:27pm

    I am 100% certain that bad and lazy parenting makes for rude little brats.

    "It's not our fault our child acts this way it everything else but us"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re:

    Every young generation has been ridiculed by their elders as being (insert many adjectives). This happens because ... idk - people are assholes and it's not just the young ones.

    This constant haranguing of the next generation is quite stupid and without merit but it seems to here to stay. Apparently those wagging their fingers today are old, senile and have forgotten about how they were targeted in a similar manner when they were young. Those damn hippy commie basturds ... and get off my lawn!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 5:10pm

    Re: A solution avails

    It's also a society that does not communicate what they are thinking, rather they communicate what they think they are supposed to say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2016 @ 11:47am

    Re: there's an assumption here that a child can't really differentiate between a computer and a human being

    That isn't an unfair assumption to make about plenty of adults. Children are for the most part narcissists, and the NIH confirms that somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% of adults suffer from NPD. Most of these people typically can't tell the difference between a refrigerator and a human as full grown adults.

    The idea that a child's social learning curve could be tainted by AI isn't that different than the known and measured impacts of social isolation or psychological abuse. It isn't measured as yet, but IMHO AI placebos for humanistic communications are likely to have an effect on child development.

    My guess is that retention for bad habits are higher than for emulated media like TV because the feedback loop is closed. The children ARE actually getting things they want, not just experimenting based on what they see on TV, and typically not getting the expected response.

    On the other hand, putting an Echo in a house with kids is a pretty good indicator that there is more than once source of narcissistic behavior to emulate in the household.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 11 Jun 2016 @ 12:00pm

    Re: A solution avails

    "According to Jerry Henry: "And, it is amazing how friendly people are when standing next to an obviously armed person. An armed society is truly a polite society.""

    I stand next to obviously armed people a few times a month. I can't honestly say that I've seen them treated with a greater degree of friendliness than unarmed people.

    Instead, the effect that they have is nervousness and an active attempt to avoid interacting with them.

    John Henry is another of the surprisingly large group of people who confuse "respect" and "friendliness" with "fear".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Gerald Robinson (profile), 11 Jun 2016 @ 12:15pm

    Mental illness

    This is a clear case of haplophobia "The most common manifestation of hoplophobia is the idea that instruments possess a will of their own, apart from that of their user." Most often applied to weapons but often applied to computers. Unfortunately this mental disease has a very low cure rate. Basically it is due to the inability of the person to recognize an opposing point of view as valid due "all powerful" 'Evil Object's Powers' and the attitude that social problems are susceptible to technical solution. e.g. drugs to cure drug dependence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    Wyrm (profile), 11 Jun 2016 @ 4:04pm

    Re:

    You forgot the most important one:
    Blame Canada!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    ryuugami, 12 Jun 2016 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Mental illness

    "The most common manifestation of hoplophobia is the idea that instruments possess a will of their own, apart from that of their user."

    In this post-Windows 10 world, that's not a phobia anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    klaus (profile), 13 Jun 2016 @ 2:54am

    Re:

    Yes, but studies have shown that parents have far less influence on how their offspring turn out than you'd suppose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 13 Jun 2016 @ 5:58am

    Re: When his daughter finds out what Daddy said about her

    "Mommy, Daddy called me a rude name on the internet."

    *Sits down and eats popcorn while parents fight*

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 13 Jun 2016 @ 6:02am

    Re: Re: there's an assumption here that a child can't really differentiate between a computer and a human being

    Narcissism is effectively arrested social development. In adults, it manifests as the kind of behaviour you expect from a young child. I think that in kids it's necessary to ensure that their needs are met but in adults it can be harmful and downright scary. Some people might think certain narcissistic adults are lovable child-people but those who have to cope with the irresponsibility and lack of consideration, not to mention the petty vindictiveness, end up thinking otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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