This is the TMall Genie smart speaker, made by the Chinese company Alibaba.

This is the TMall Genie smart speaker, made by the Chinese company Alibaba.

About 26.2 percent of American households have a smart speaker.

It can play NPR and tell you the weather. It can even read your kids a bedtime story.

But some parents have expressed concern that as their kids start asking smart speakers for things, those kids might turn into “demanding little twerps.” Or voice assistants will give inappropriate information. Or kids’ privacy will be compromised by data collection.

But what do researchers think might happen? And will kids even be able to differentiate when they’re talking to a person or an AI-enabled smart speaker?

Here’s what Wired found out when they talked to Justine Cassell, an expert in the development of AI interfaces for children.

Nobody knows for sure, and Cassell emphasizes that the question deserves study, but she suspects today’s children will grow up similarly attuned to the virtual nature of our device-dwelling digital sidekicks—and, by extension, the context in which they do or do not need to be polite. Kids excel, she says, at dividing the world into categories. As long as they continue to separate humans from machines, she says, there’s no need to worry. “Because isn’t that actually what we want children to learn—not that everything that has a voice should be thanked, but that people have feelings?”

We team up with KUOW’s “Primed” to talk about how smart speakers affect modern parenting.

Produced by Kathryn Fink.


  • Joshua McNichols Reporter, KUOW; co-host, "Primed"; @joshuamcnichols
  • Jason Yip Assistant professor of digital youth, Information School, University of Washington; @jasoncyip
  • Josh Sherman Director, Amazon's Kid and Family division

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