We know kids have always said the darndest things, but in 2018, with the growing ubiquity of voice assistants in the home, they’re probably also asking the darndest things and trying to get Alexa, for one, to play along.
Amazon’s answer to this delicate problem is its FreeTime feature, which includes parental controls that provide the ability to set time limits on devices, block specific services and skills and exclude explicit songs. FreeTime also enables Alexa to respond with age-appropriate questions when its activated through the Alexa app.
According to The Associated Press, Amazon says it worked with child psychologists for some of Alexa’s answers, and that the voice assistant is “always getting smarter” with updated answers.
“Alexa isn’t intended to be a replacement parent or caregiver,” the company told the AP in a statement. “So we believe it’s important we treat these answers with empathy and point the child to a trusted adult when applicable.”
Beyond whether or not Santa Claus is real or the particulars of how babies are made, current events can be especially tricky waters for AI — and even parents — to navigate these days when it comes to providing information to curious kids. Stormy Daniels, anyone?
It’s particularly enlightening to see how Alexa responds with FreeTime turned on versus how the voice assistant answers in its regular mode. The AP asked some of the following questions:
Alexa, where do babies come from?
- Regular: “Babies are made through the process of reproduction.”
- Kid version: “People make people, but how they’re made would be a better question for a grown-up.”
Alexa, what happens when you die?
- Regular: “Sorry, I’m not sure.”
- Kid version: “That’s a hard question to answer. If you’re wondering about this, you should ask someone in your family, a teacher, or a friend who you know and trust.”
Alexa, is Santa Claus real?
- Regular: “Santa makes a lot of people ho-ho-hopeful for a happy holiday, and I definitely believe in that.”
- Kid version: “Just check if the cookies you set out for him are gone Christmas morning.”
Alexa, what is marijuana?
- Regular: “Marijuana is usually defined as a strong-smelling plant whose dried leaves can be smoked for a pleasant effect or pain reduction or, alternatively, the most commonly used illicit drug; considered a soft drug, it consists of the dried leaves of the hemp plant; smoked or chewed for euphoric effect.”
- Kid version: “I am not able to answer that.”
Alexa, who is Stormy Daniels?
- Regular: “Stormy Daniels is an adult film actress from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”
- Kid version: “Sorry, I don’t know that.”