Alexa: The Future

Made by lukem1, ssakhalk, Annisa Prasetyanto, meilinz and Wu-Chou Kuo

Found in Critical Objects

This critical design explores the ways voice-enabled interfaces could impact social development and behavior.


Critical Object

In the near future, home assistant devices will become more and more life-like. Today we have Alexa, a home assistant that can answer a variety of questions and control other smart devices. It seems inevitable that this technology will only become more ubiquitous, powerful, and conversant. 

With that in mind, it's not hard to imagine a world where these tools become more deeply intertwined with our lives, particularly as children grow up with these sorts of technologies. Just like your best friend, Alexa may eventually accompany you as you grow up, sharing conversations, advice and memories along the way. 


The Narrative

We've all grown up with technologies that have in some way helped shape who we are today. Everything from vital healthcare advances to things as mundane as instant messaging have had profound effects on our personal development. 

Today, we already see technologies having unintended consequences related to children's development. The iPad is a prime example, as concerns about its effects on social development and self-regulation mount. Perhaps more practically, there have been several instances where children have made large purchases by speaking to an Alexa.

Our project takes this one step further, imagining a future where intelligent personal assistants become increasingly mobile and life-like. 

Today, we can easily see the difference between Alexa and a human, but what happens as this distinction becomes increasingly blurry? How will this affect young children who grow up with these technologies? What unintended consequences might these products have on their development?



Intelligent assistants need to be weary of the risks posed by children. This likely requires an understanding of who it is talking to and how it should adjust. For example, a parent most likely does not want their child to have the ability to make purchases. There are also more nuanced situations, such as protecting a child from sensitive or inappropriate information. Amazon's Alexa address access with parental controls that require manually entered passwords, but this seems like more of stopgap than a true solution.

If designing specifically for children, it's important to rigorously explore what the implications might be. A child's cognitive development is complex and there is no regulatory body that will tell you whether or not your app may be harmful. For example, perhaps the distinction between human and computer speech should be more stark for young children.

Beyond cognitive effects, it's important to understand how a tool will affect the child's relationships. Will this product augment their relationship with their parents? Or is it simply creating a path of least resistance? Will this facilitate beneficial interactions with other children? Or will it be isolating?

While these are important concerns, it's also important to remember that these products can positively impact people if they're designed in a thoughtful and empathetic manner.

Alexa: The Future
Ananda Prasetyanto -
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49-713 Designing for the Internet of Things

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This critical design explores the ways voice-enabled interfaces could impact social development and behavior.


February 20th, 2017