Kids are growing up with talktech being normal

Kids are growing up with talktech being normal

We’ve gotten way beyond kids just being “digital natives” (growing up with digital technology) now. 😉

In this

Washington Post article by Hayley Tsukayama via L.A. Times**

they cite the example of Yana Welinder’s kid trying to say, “Alexa”…before being able to say, “Mama”.

That really gave me a smile, because something like that happened in my house (and it was my “fault”).

I have a sibling who is eight years younger than I am. Before my baby sib could talk, I would flick a light switch on and off, carefully enunciating the words “On” and “Off”.

The result of that was that my sibling’s first word was “On”.

My parents weren’t particularly amused, even though it was used contextually (often with a pointing finger).

I recommend the article, which goes more into depth (but not very deep) on some of the possible concerns.

What will it mean as kids grow up with lots of devices in their homes, and devices which perform essential functions, that respond to spoken requests (and with spoken responses in many cases)?

Will they feel like they are being slighted when other devices don’t respond? Will the assumption be that everything is able to talk, and some things just choose not to do that?

On the other hand, they almost certainly will treat

Alexa devices (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

(which, at time of writing, are on sale for as low as under $30) as “social actors”. In other words, they will consider the device’s feelings, and have a sense of intent in what it does.

Many (probably most) adults do that with technology now. I strongly recommend

The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What We Can Learn About Ourselves from Our Machines (at AmazonSmile*)

by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen, which uses that principle to delve into human interpersonal dynamics…I read a lot of books on that sort of thing, and this has one of the best explanation of how you build teams that I’ve ever seen.

I understand that there can be an issue with soldiers and law enforcement officers anthropomorphizing anti-bomb robots…and wanting to save the robots when they are in “danger”.

Today is the 31st anniversary of the release of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in the USA, and the article pointed to a scene in that movie…although that scene also has occurred to me independently around these issues.

This is really just a short gag and doesn’t affect the plot, but I’ll still give you a minor


The Enterprise crew are in 1986 (that’s on the posters), and Scotty (and McCoy) are trying to work with a computer of the era.

This scene shows Scotty trying first to address the computer verbally:

YouTube video

Of course, I could also just say to our Echo Show, “Alexa, play ‘Star Trek Hello Computer from YouTube'”…and I did to test it. 🙂 Oh, the Echo Show does have YouTube videos back, by the way, but they don’t show full screen…that’s what Google didn’t like, because it took away advertising and recommending other videos, I think.


I think I’ve also mentioned this on the blog before, but I have often pointed out to people how the original Star Trek series was way ahead of us in transportation (the warp drive, the transporter), ahead of us in healthcare (but we are catching up), but way behind us in computers (at least, the standard computer on the Enterprise).

When Captain Kirk would ask a simple question, it would take the computer a few seconds to answer it…and you could actually hear relays closing!

Yes, there were some super intelligent computers, but they weren’t standard. In one episode (Tomorrow Is Yesterday), the computer is much smoother and has a definite personality…but that was anomalous, and wasn’t desired.

I don’t see the ability to talk to our devices going away for the next decade at least. As long as verbal communication remains one of our main ways to communicate our desires (it would take a lot to change that…just texting isn’t going to do that, although brain-machine-interfaces, which could effectively result in technological telepathy…techepathy(?) might), we’ll want to do speak with our tech…besides just chastising a computer or car.

I would expect that within the next five years, we’ll be able to speak as smoothly and successfully with our main personal devices as we can with most humans. That will require:

      • Better “artificial empathy”. We are getting that now…devices understanding how we feel. I love a free app from Microsoft, Seeing AI (currently only available for iOS, so I use t on my work iPhone. It’s designed for those with visual impairments, but its also just fun (and has significant benefit for people who have difficulty determining emotions in others, as some people with autism can have). I can take a picture of a person, and it will guess their gender and age (it’s almost always been within four years for me), and will tell me if they look “happy”, “neutral”, and so. Our talktech will be able to tell if we are angry or happy (maybe not with 100% accuracy…but humans don’t hit 100%, either), and adjust the responses accordingly
      • This has started, but they are beginning to recognize us as individuals. That’s obviously something we do with humans…and our talktech needs to be able to do this more reliably
      • It will also need to figure out context…is the voice generating person right next to them? Yelling from another room? On a recording? Something I really want is that, if I whisper to my Alexa device, it whispers back. 🙂 I’m sometimes talking to our Echo when my Significant Other is asleep. I can whisper and it understands me…but “Okay” is quite loud!
      • It will also need more languages and slang…it’s pretty facile with accents, in my experience, but it will become much more cosmopolitan and culturally diverse. I once heard of a doctor who told a patient that the patient would need to find another doctor…because the first doctor couldn’t understand the patient’s (English) slang!

If that gets too sophisticated, that could make for an interesting situation…it’s possible your child and your talktech will be develop their own language…which you won’t be able to understand…

Update: I forgot to address something I’ve mentioned previously in the blog, that we are donating an unopened Echo Dot to a children’s center (I’m hoping to drop off that donation, which includes other things, tomorrow). I think it’s important that possibly disadvantaged children also get exposed to this technology. I will include instructions on how to turn off voice purchasing (Menu-Settings-Voice Purchasing). They’ll also want to be careful about which experiences are enabled. I don’t think they can, through software, stop requests which include explicit music…that might require monitoring.

What do you think? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

** Thanks to a reader who sent me a link to this story in a private communication…always appreciated! By the way, I linked to the L.A. Times instead of the (Jeff Bezos’ owned) Washington Post because the WaPo limits you to three free articles a day…and I didn’t want you to use one up unnecessarily…the world of paywalls! That one does seem like one possible strategy…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

8 Responses to “Kids are growing up with talktech being normal”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I have a sister who is 20 years and one month younger than me (i’m the oldest, she’s the youngest). I would sit by her high chair and repeat “drop dead” over and over again — it became her first utterance (with a big smile)– my mother was not pleased (:grin). A few months later when I would say “drop dead” she would frown, and shake her head — she’s always been a fast learner (:grin).

    I currently have 6 Alexa devices with a 7th (a Spot) on order (no rug rats around, however). I recently had a colloquy with the Alexa feedback folks saying that four wake words is not nearly enough if they want households to load up on Alexa devices. Each Alexa device (including those from 3rd parties — most of which only respond to “Alexa”) needs to be vocally addressable.

    Some of my own testing (while my internet was down) suggests that some of the wake word logic is embedded in the device, not in the cloud. If so, that will make implementing more wake words (to say nothing of custom wake words) a challenge. The feedback folks responded that they passed my suggestion on to the “relevant” people (for whatever that’s worth 😦 )

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      That’s a big difference…I’m sure you had the same thing I did. When we would go out together (only eight years apart), people thought my sib was my kid! I’ve always looked older than I was, and my sib looks younger…that’s probably not true for either of us any more, though.

      As to the wake words…our Alexas (and this should be true for everyone’s) are much better than they used to be at telling which one is being addressed just by figuring out where the speaker is. That’s why I can just say, “Alexa, light on” and it knows which one to do (since they’ve been grouped).

      Since that’s the case, I think multiple wake words are less important than they were at one time. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be cool, though. 🙂

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        My house is relatively open plan. For example, my original Echo is in the living/great room about 25 feet across an open space separated only by a bar seating arrangement. They have separate wake words. However, my Master Bedroom is in a separate room around the corner from the dining room and kitchen — still, an Ecgo request targeted at an MBR device will cause the Show in the kitchen to wake up. The biggest wake word issue going forward is all the 3rd party Alexa devices that only have the “Alexa” wake word.

        My internet was out recently — so none of my Alexa devices could reach the cloud; yet they continued to recognize the wake word. That strongly implies that the wake word logic is embedded in the device. Wake word recognition is complex; the logic in Alexa devices is necessarily limited. This makes wake word expansion a nontrivial exercise.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        Hm…interesting. Mine seem to know which one I am addressing, even though I can see more than one at the same time.

        Right, when our internet was out, they recognized the wake word, I think. Although, after a while, the Echo Show would just show an orange line on the bottom of the screen. That was a good indicator if the internet was still out.

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    The original Echo is separated from my Echo Show in the kitchen — sorry for the missing phrase.

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I was fooling around with my Show earlier. I recently went to the last NASCAR race of the season at Homestead, Florida with one of my brothers who is a Dr. Who fanatic. I noticed while with him that his ringtone is the Dr. Who theme music — I kept looking around for a Tardis to appear ;-).

    While I was messing about in the kitchen, I was thinking about that. I wondered whether Alexa would recognize a request for the Dr. Who theme music — so I asked my Show to play the Dr. Who theme music — it did, but it was from series 8 (one that I’ve never watched). The theme was a bit jazzed up — not like the classic at all.

    I then asked Alexa to show me some Dr. Who episodes, and it displayed a plethora of them. I chose one, and the episode began to play complete with the classic theme music — pretty cool!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Very exciting for me that Tom Baker is finishing a Doctor Who episode! The Fourth was my first…but I did like Matt Smith, too. 🙂

      Two things: the Show has YouTube back, and YouTube has lots of TV openings. I did, “Alexa, YouTube the original Doctor Who theme” and had several choices that worked. For fun, also try, “Alexa, YouTube John Barrowman Doctor Who theme”. John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) sings the Doctor Who theme on The Weakest Link.

  4. Amazon’s Announce-A-Palooza 2018! | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Kids are growing up with talktech being normal […]

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