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Amazon Echo: A product to be worried about or not?

Amazon product concerns parents as it comes without necessary etiquette

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Amazon Echo. Image source Wikimedia commons

You shouldn’t worry if you forget your please and thank you. Alexa will put up with just about anything with tolerance. 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.’” Perhaps she should, he thinks.

Alexa app. Image source Wikimedia commons
Alexa app. Image source Wikimedia commons

When Amazon released its internet-connected speaker in 2014, the world was puzzled. It was able to do work in a smart home by adding events to your calendar, summon an Uber, even tell knock-knock jokes. It became a very curious design. Google and Apple is reportedly designing their own version powered by Google home and Siri respectively.

Mimicking their parents, they quickly discover that if they start a sentence with “Alexa,” the speaker will perk up and (for the most part) do as they say. Amazon didn’t keep children in mind during the designing. It becomes child friendly even when the child does not know reading or any such commands.

Some of the questions Alexa can be asked are:

  • Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
  • Alexa, how do you spell forest?
  • Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The commands given are usually simple and straightforward but doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be of great concern. “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.”

Hanover Kurzweil, who lives in San Francisco, says Alexa had a hard time comprehending her four-year-old son when he tried summoning the speaker with “Awexa.” But after a month or two of working on his pronunciation, his l’s started ringing clear as a bell, she says.
Apple's Siri. Image source Wikimedia commons
Apple’s Siri. Image source Wikimedia commons

Not all parents are so worried about the implications of their kids’ mannerisms when interacting with a speaker, though. This is, after all, a “can that sits on a table,” says Holly Petersen, a mother of two who lives in Minnesota. They find ‘unintentional aggressiveness’ in the tone of her command. Though Petersen believes her children, ages five and seven, know the difference between bot and human. “It is important for my kids to be able to empathize with people and read emotions off people and be polite with people,” she says. But “Alexa doesn’t have feelings, and I don’t want her over-personified.”

Still, with the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, a debate is emerging around how humans should treat bots. Mortensen argues that “you are worse off if you treat your machines in a demeaning kind of way.” Mortensen created the calendar-scheduling assistant called x.ai. He doesn’t correct them though since they “are beyond the age of where I teach them decency and courtesy.”

But other parents haven’t given up. Manu Kumar, a father of two and founder of investment firm K9 Ventures in Palo Alto, California, has attempted one tactic with his four-year-old with limited success. “I have told my son that if he doesn’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ that Alexa will stop listening to him.”  He too believes that what matters is the importance of being nice. He says that if Alexa doesn’t care about how we talk to her, other people around us are going to experience how we interact with it.

People are longing for a kid or family mode where Alexa responds only after hearing the keyword. Of course, that would mean parents, too, would be beholden to these courtesies. Such a mode “would probably be good for us,” muses Hanover Kurzweil.

No matter what, an Amazon representative declined to agree to what these parents have to say. She also wrote an email saying “I think I’d like to use that with my daughter :)”
-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter-Vrushali Mahajan 
Related articles:

  • AJ Krish

    I personally believe that kids should say their pleases and thank you even if it is to a bot.It is how we behave to others that show the world who we are.I share the parent’s concerns.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be a difference when bots talk to the children and when parents talk to them. You cannot expect the bots to parent your child in your desired way. Therefore you should be able to identify when the child needs you

  • devika todi

    the parents need to be more careful in this regard. they need to make sure that their kids know the difference when they are speaking to a robot and when they are speaking to a human.

SHARE
  • AJ Krish

    I personally believe that kids should say their pleases and thank you even if it is to a bot.It is how we behave to others that show the world who we are.I share the parent’s concerns.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be a difference when bots talk to the children and when parents talk to them. You cannot expect the bots to parent your child in your desired way. Therefore you should be able to identify when the child needs you

  • devika todi

    the parents need to be more careful in this regard. they need to make sure that their kids know the difference when they are speaking to a robot and when they are speaking to a human.

Next Story

Giving Human Touch to Alexa or Siri May Not Be A Good Idea

In fact, human-like features might create a backlash against less responsive human-like chat bots.

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Sundar said the findings could help developers improve acceptance of chat technology among users. Pixabay

An Indian American researcher-led team has found that giving human touch to chat bots like Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa may actually disappoint users.

Just giving a chat bot human name or adding human-like features to its avatar might not be enough to win over a user if the device fails to maintain a conversational back-and-forth with that person, according to S. Shyam Sundar, Co-director of Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.

“People are pleasantly surprised when a chat bot with fewer human cues has higher interactivity,” said Sundar.

“But when there are high human cues, it may set up your expectations for high interactivity – and when the chat bot doesn’t deliver that – it may leave you disappointed,” he added.

iPhone

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, also found that just mentioning whether a human or a machine is involved — or, providing an identity cue — guides how people perceive the interaction. Pixabay

In fact, human-like features might create a backlash against less responsive human-like chat bots.

During the study, Sundar found that chat bots that had human features — such as a human avatar — but lacked interactivity, disappointed people who used it.

However, people responded better to a less-interactive chat bot that did not have human-like cues.

High interactivity is marked by swift responses that match a user’s queries and feature a threaded exchange that can be followed easily.

According to Sundar, even small changes in the dialogue, like acknowledging what the user said before providing a response, can make the chat bot seem more interactive.

Because there is an expectation that people may be leery of interacting with a machine, developers typically add human names to their chat bots — for example, Apple’s Siri — or programme a human-like avatar to appear when the chat bot responds to a user.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, also found that just mentioning whether a human or a machine is involved — or, providing an identity cue — guides how people perceive the interaction.

For the study, the researchers recruited 141 participants through Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowd-sourced site that allows people to get paid to participate in studies.

iPhone
According to Sundar, even small changes in the dialogue, like acknowledging what the user said before providing a response, can make the chat bot seem more interactive. Pixabay

Sundar said the findings could help developers improve acceptance of chat technology among users.

Also Read: Airstrike Escalates Fighting in Libya, Authorities Close Tripoli’s Only Functioning Airport

“There’s a big push in the industry for chat bots,” said Sundar.

“They’re low-cost and easy-to-use, which makes the technology attractive to companies for use in customer service, online tutoring and even cognitive therapy — but we also know that chat bots have limitations,” he added. (IANS)