Generation AI’s Dystopian Future?

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. The generation of children born since 2010 are being shaped by the ubiquitous presence of artificial intelligence (AI) from birth. Some of the 650 million children who are members of Generation AI, or Gen AI for short, are exposed to AI used in schools and by marketers.

Children and AI

As you know, 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 we must answer 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?”

Gartner analysts Bob Hetu, Kelly Calhoun Williams and I published research this past September that found 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, their ability to independently analyze, assess and reconstruct ideas, have not yet fully developed. They are 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.

What’s to Prevent a Dystopian Future?

“The value of an education … is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” – Albert Einstein

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.

“In the next 10 years, AI will change the entire job scene. Whether this results in a utopia or dystopia depends on what kind of education we can provide now.” Former Japanese education minister Hakubun Shimomura

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.

The complete report, Maverick* Research: Generation AI Must Be Protected From a Dystopian Future, is available on Gartner.com.