Why kids should call robots ‘it’ (but still be nice)

The Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger:

Today’s small children, aka Generation Alpha, are the first to grow up with robots as peers. Those winsome talking devices spawned by a booming education-tech industry can speed children’s learning, but they also can be confusing to them, research shows. Many children think robots are smarter than humans or imbue them with magical powers.

We need to think very carefully about teaching children, who have never known a world without robots, how to interact with them appropriately. Treating them as if they were human isn’t a direction we should take. We are better than robots. But, equally, we surely shouldn’t encourage children to be impolite or aggressive just because the robot doesn’t have feelings. (Yet.)

If you need a reason to be cheerful, the piece goes on to describe some of the work being done to study this topic. In particular, this simple exercise suggests even the youngest of children have the capability to grasp the basics of machine learning and AI:

Researchers at MIT have developed an AI curriculum called PopBots that guides children as young as 4 to teach a robot to play the game Rock, Paper, Scissors; to divide foods into healthy and unhealthy groups; and to remix melodies to create new strains of music. The children answered many questions correctly on a test afterward and were able to discuss AI concepts.