Sick of arguing with your children about how long they must brush their teeth? Ask Amazon's Alexa.
Maybe you're weary of entertaining your baby with airplane noises while you glide spoonfuls of mashed vegetables toward their face. Or you can't keep your own eyes open while reading your toddlers bedtime stories. Yep, your voice-enabled, AI-informed helper can handle it all.
Amazon's library of Alexa "Skills," entertainment and productivity functions accessible to owners of Echo devices, is growing by the day. One particularly robust category is Kids, which includes Skills such as Amazon Storytime, Kids Sing Along, Lego Activities, and the SpongeBob Challenge. With the Short Bedtime Story Skill, saying the command "Alexa, tell bedtime story to Oliver" prompts the device to deliver a personalized story with the child's name incorporated into it.
Most of the Skills for kids have been created by ostensibly well-intentioned developers working solo or in small companies. Still, for many parents, there's concern over children so frequently and naturally interacting with voice AI-enabled devices. With widespread adoption of Alexa and Google Home has come a tremendous amount of hand-wringing about kids bossing the little boxes around, or just preferring to banter with them over parents, siblings, or friends. As we prepare for a generation partially raised on home assistants, psychologists are asking questions about their potential effects on a child's empathy and interpersonal skills. "These devices don't have emotional intelligence," Allison Druin, a University of Maryland professor who studies how children use technology, told The Washington Post.
It's certainly too early to say what long-term psychological impact will be. But to complicate matters even further, companies large and small are beginning to produce content specifically for young children to teenagers for dissemination through these voice channels. And in spite of restrictions on advertising imposed by Amazon and other device makers, they're not leaving out their brand names or kid-friendly characters. So while parents grapple with the price of convenient, time-saving child care assistance, businesses are jumping at what they see as a huge opportunity.
Help with common parenting functions
A micro-podcast for kids to listen to while brushing their teeth, produced by Gimlet Media, is simple to call up on a smart speaker. With food, pet, or geography trivia, the two-to-three-minutes of audio, called Chompers, is entertaining enough to make some children enthusiastic brushers. It even won the first-ever Cannes Lion award for an audio skill. What listeners may not notice is that the entire endeavor is sponsored by Proctor & Gamble's Oral-B and Crest Kids.
The brands aren't touted on the show or in ads, though, when Chompers is called up through the Alexa ecosystem. That's due to the ban on explicit advertising within Alexa Skills. (It's allowed within versions of the podcast accessed elsewhere.)
Plenty of adults are comfortable interacting with brand integrations to their voice-command-enabled devices--say, ordering a pizza by saying, "Alexa, open Domino's." But when it comes to children's interactions, brands will need to be careful not to overstep. That's the challenge facing Sprout, an organic baby-and-toddler-food company, with its new foray into the technology. Working with its creative agency, Walrus, it decided that a natural extension of its nutritious-eating mission was to provide entertainment for kids--to make their food fun. On July 16 it debuted an Alexa skill called "Eat and Sing With Sophie Sprout."
"With the rise of the Amazon devices and Google, it just seemed like a great way to inject fun in the otherwise sometimes-stressful eating time," says Sunita Adams, Sprout's vice president of marketing.