Ethical insights on the future of Generation AI
Millions of our youngest people, children under 10 years old, are exposed to misleading and biased uses of artificial intelligence. What will you do about it?
We are a digital society in transition: children born since 2010 (known as Generation AI or Gen AI) are being shaped by the ubiquitous presence of artificial intelligence (AI) from birth. Already some of the 650 million members of Gen AI, ages 5 through 9, are exposed to AI used in schools and by marketers.
Young children adopt technology easily. While the numbers vary by country and economic stratum, children as young as 2 years old use tablets and play with smartphones. Indeed, a 2015 study conducted at the University of Iowa found that, by age 2, 90% of children have a moderate ability to use a tablet. Toddlers who are just learning to walk know how to swipe and point and generate results from tablets, even though some games are simply too complex for their age.
A review of studies published in Child Development Perspectives in 2018 found that toddlers may learn more from interactive digital media that employ machine learning than from educational TV and videos. The question for you and me is: 'Who decides what is important for the Gen AI child to know, how is their attention guided to that content and by what algorithms?'
Bob Hetu, Kelly Calhoun Williams and I recently published a piece of 'Maverick' Gartner research, presenting our findings that the infusion of AI into the world of our youngest generation, the first 'AI natives', will produce dystopian results. Gen AI’s critical thinking skills, that is, the ability to independently analyze, assess and reconstruct ideas, have not yet fully developed, making them unable to discern if a marketing message is partisan or discriminatory. Yet businesses and educational technology providers are incorporating AI into products targeted at or used by Gen AI children.
As a result, Gen AI is exposed to unscrupulous (as well as well-meaning but misguided) uses of AI in their young lives. Young enough to be influenced by AI, they are also too young to do anything about it.
Moreover, AI-driven content intended for adults is also exposed to children. Adult-oriented content will affect Gen AI, reinforcing and extending the impact that AI has on the children. And while the current exposure to AI is largely limited to marketing messages and interactive responses based on machine learning techniques, its use in Gen AI’s lives will expand exponentially over time.
If this exposure is left unchecked, Gen AI children will consider it as a normal part of being a consumer, student and citizen, leaving themselves open to malicious manipulation. Society must ensure Gen AI learns how to differentiate and evaluate the AI-based content. Children must learn and practice critical thinking and evaluative skills early and often.
You and I know children, in our families, neighborhood, or community, who are members of Generation AI. And as members of society, we have a responsibility to moderate the influence AI has on society’s youngest and most vulnerable members. We need to support them until the children have developed the critical thinking skills necessary to discern AI’s influence and have a healthy skepticism about what they see and do.
And as people who are in business, education or other professions, you and I must also advocate for neutral AI results in products, marketing messages and educational tools. The decisions about the use of AI in education, commerce and other social policy areas will determine how Gen AI is raised into adulthood.
What will be the impact of lifelong exposure to AI on customers and workers? Will our children grow into independent, critical thinkers or dependent, unthinking individuals passively influenced and easily shepherded? An entire generation awaits our response.
Author: Pete Basiliere