Amazon Alexa Wants To Put Your Child To Bed With Generative AI Storytelling

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From Forbes:

Generative AI, which is known for churning out fantastical art based on text prompts, is now sneaking into one of the most sacred bonding experiences for parents and children: bedtime storytelling.

Amazon is hopping into the generative AI craze with a new Alexa feature that creates short, five-scene stories for kids based on a few prompts. Called ‘Create With Alexa,’ the feature lets children and parents select from given themes like underwater, enchanted forest and space exploration and pick a character, a descriptive word and a color. Then, they sit back and wait as the AI comes up with different stories, visuals, audio dialogues and background music.

With Amazon hopping aboard the generative AI craze, some experts say that the company has created safeguards to ensure that the technology isn’t spouting anything inappropriate for young ears, and Create With Alexa could help foster more shared experiences for children and parents. But AI researchers also warn that stories made with generative AI could mystify children’s understanding of AI’s capabilities and intelligence.

The feature, which is available on Echo Show devices, relies on generative AI, algorithms that use existing content to create new content. Specifically, it implements language models, which ingest large amounts of text to learn how to create sentences similar to how people talk. The algorithm that powers Create With Alexa is trained on a database of commercially available visuals as well as Amazon’s own proprietary content.

Eshan Bhatnagar, head of product for Alexa AI at Amazon, says that Create With Alexa was designed with safety in mind. The technology has three safeguards in place, including content filtering, training the AI on a curated dataset that is free of toxic content, and most importantly, setting up a structured and restricted experience. “We wanted to avoid the garbage in garbage out kind of tendency of AI,” says Bhatnagar, referencing the likelihood of AI to render improper content based on the type of inputs fed into it. “We are being cautious, and conservative in our approach to how we want to expose some of the generative capabilities to our customers.”

Stefania Druga, a researcher on creative AI at the University of Washington, says Amazon’s decision to build Alexa’s new storytelling feature by structuring it around a few input prompts that ask users to select from a given set of templates can help make generative AI safer for kids. “I think this approach of providing curated templates, and really trying to curate the experience and control the types of generations that can be entered into the system is very promising,” Druga told Forbes.

But these safeguards can’t fully protect kids from the influence of intelligent computer systems like Alexa. Druga found in her research paper “Hey Google is it OK if I eat you?” Initial Explorations in Child-Agent Interaction” that interacting with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home can influence how children understand the intelligence of computers. She says Create With Alexa could mystify the abilities of AI for children, influencing their judgments about how intelligent the computer actually is and whether it’s a trustworthy source.

“What I’ve seen in my research is that the kids don’t even know how to read and write when they start interacting with a voice assistant. And if that’s their first introduction into searching anything on the web, that really colors their experience on how they process information,” Druga says. “Because if it’s spoken to them with a nice voice as a human would talk, they don’t really see that this is just like the first result from a search on the web, then it’s harder to develop this critical sense of whether they should trust this or not.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

7 thoughts on “Amazon Alexa Wants To Put Your Child To Bed With Generative AI Storytelling”

  1. Does this mean the children will not have access to some of the topics children SHOULD learn about young, such as that there are families with two dads, are being allowed (toxic to one set of parents) or not (toxic to another set of parents). Or do you customize it for YOUR kids (who might turn out to be gay when you’re not)?

    Humans do (a little) better. Some of them.

    There is no way they would be doing anything other than reading books I’d already chosen for MY kids.

    • Politics aside, this is a continuation of a 60 year+ trend of people using tech gadgetry as babysitters, a replacement for parental attention, much as many parents leave thrir educstion to whatever teachers want to indoctrinate them in, from the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE to climate change othodoxy to CRT.

      In the 60’s and 70’s it was TV; Sesame Street, afternoon and saturday morning cartoons loaded with fast food and toy commercials. In the 80’s and 90’s video games came into the mix along with Nickolodeon, the Cartoon Network, Disney channel. More recently it’s been tablets and social media that hands-off parents rely on.

      Amazon already has a kids games subscription service and child editions of both their small tablets and Kindles. So an “AI” bedtime reading service is but the logical extension. Now detached parents can hand off their kids to teachers in the morning, online gaming and social media after school, more of the latter after dinner, and let the “AI” cover bedtime.

      Low maintenance child rearing.

      The trend is so prevalent that James Wan, one of the smaller directors and producers today is using it as a springboard for next months “family horror” creation, M3GAN, which is absolutely going to rack in the cash, judging by the trailer and the “Inside the making of…” video.

      Wan and Blume use horror flicks as a vehicle for social commentary while making great money off cheap movies. Mind you, the idea of kids bonding with robot caretakers is old, going back to Asimov’s ROBBIE, from 1940.

      M3GAN is simply showing us what is coming, a cautionary tale, in the form of a comedy/horror.
      Note the comments from the young actress. Coached or not, she speaks for her entire generation.

        • M3gan, oh so that’s the unsettling character that keeps slashing across their homepage, and I studiously ignore 🙂

          1) So this is Chucky 1. But in a much more interesting storyline,


          2) I don’t buy that the girl would bond with M3gan because the doll is creepy. Her lack of expression while talking is soooo creepy. I considered it foreshadowing in “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”** when the seemingly friendly Kyubey never changed its facial expression, even when the magical girl he was working with was killed. Kyubey is an alien with “blue & orange morality” as TV tropes would put it, and it turns out its lack of facial expression is a clue about its terrifying species.

          The fixed face comes across as “breaking the fourth wall” for M3gan. She just screams “someone set this doll to evil.” In real life a haunted house isn’t scary because you can simply not be there. The innovation in “Poltergeist” was that the family couldn’t leave. Perhaps M3gan has a similar innovation.

          That said, I did like the part where she did her flips with a makeshift sword. It reminds me of the video of this little girl in a martial arts competition. Someone commented, “she’s preparing for the Kill Bill sequel.”

          Back to your actual point, I agree some future parents would jump at the chance to have an AI friend for their kids. Then they wouldn’t even have to arrange “play dates” or teach their kids how to make friends on their own. Or teach them manners and kindness, and other assorted lessons.

          Outsourcing the rearing of children is an ancient vice; Cicero pointed out it was a bad idea to have people [slaves] raising one’s children when the slaves didn’t share the values of the parents. In his case the slaves were typically foreigners, so his concerns weren’t an abstraction. And the Alexa / M3gan tech are modern updates to the argument that parents must actually raise their kids themselves. I’ll go back and watch the first link, I’m curious what the actress says now.

          **it’s a popular deconstruction of the mahou shoujo (magical girl) genre of anime. Normally magical girls fight evil and villainy, but in this show becoming one is a Faustian bargain.

          • The marketing guys have already mounted a twitter war between Chucky and M3GAN. No shock.

            BTW, meta stuff aside, I have no interest in watching M3GAN. I have a policy against watching January releases. Nobody releases anything good in the middle of winter. And the last horror movie I was tricked into watching was the execrable EVENT HORIZON. A total waste of a great cast.

            • I’m going to file away the January rule because I never noticed that connection before. On TV I saw one scene from Event Horizon and turned the channel soooo fast. I like to imagine the marketing crew for that movie were fired and “never worked in this town again.”

              • What I want to know is how they got Sam Neil, Lawrence Fishbourne, Jason Iaacs, and Joely Richardson to buy into that screenplay? Compromising video? By the third act Neil was haming it up as if on the 60’s BATMAN.

                It only took in $26M in the US and they didn’t bother with the rest of the world. The studio got half and there is no way that cast worked cheap enough to offset anything.

                Sad thing is I wasn’t alone so I coudn’t walk out. Sadder still, I’ve seen two worse. 😮

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