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Children are growing up with AI, here is what you should know

A group of children play at Nairobi's City Park. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Younger generations are growing up interacting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms, yet little attention is paid to the impact of AI and related technologies on children.

AI holds great potential for children's education and health but it is also a risk for their privacy and safety.

Decision-makers and tech innovators must therefore prioritise children's rights and wellbeing when designing and developing AI systems.

Efforts should be undertaken to create AI curricula, and build AI literacy and skills for future generations.

A 2019 study conducted by DataChildFutures found that 46 per cent of participating Italian households had AI-powered speakers, while 40 per cent of toys were connected to the internet.

More recent research suggests that by 2023 more than 275 million intelligent voice assistants, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, will be installed in homes worldwide.

As younger generations grow up interacting with AI-enabled devices, more consideration should be given to the impact of this technology on children, their rights and wellbeing.

Unlocking the potential of AI

AI-powered learning tools and approaches are often regarded as critical drivers of innovation in the education sector.

Often recognised for its ability to improve the quality of learning and teaching, artificial intelligence is being used to monitor students' level of knowledge and learning habits, such as rereading and task prioritisation, and ultimately to provide a personalized approach to learning.

Knewton is one example of AI-enabled learning software that identifies knowledge gaps and curates education content in line with user needs. Algorithms are also behind Microsoft`s Presentation Translator that provides the real-time translation in 60 different languages as a presentation is being delivered.

This software helps increase access to learning, in particular for students who have a hearing impairment. AI, though not always successfully, is also increasingly used to automate grading and feedback activities.

With such broad potential for use in the education system, forecasts by Global Market Insights suggest that the market value of AI in education will reach $20 billion (over Sh2.5 trillion) by 2027.

Challenges to child welfare

Despite the positive applications of AI, there is still a lot of hesitation towards the technology in certain regions. A 2019 survey conducted revealed that 43 per cent of US and 33 per cent of UK millennial parents respectively would be comfortable with leaving their children in the care of an AI-powered nurse during hospitalisation.

In contrast, millennial parents in China, India and Brazil are more receptive to artificial intelligence, where 88 per cent, 83 per cent and 63 per cent respectively would be comfortable with a virtual nurse caring for their child in hospital. 

Scepticism on the widespread use of AI is also present in discussions on children`s privacy and safety. Children's information including sensitive and biometric data is captured and processed by intelligent devices including virtual assistants and smart toys. In the wrong hands, such data could put children's safety at risk.

Concerns have also been raised over the use of children's data, such as juvenile records in AI systems, to predict future criminal behaviour and recidivism.