Intelligence is more than just the facts you know. Any computer can spit out the population of Orlando or recite a Shakespearean sonnet. True intelligence--the kind that leads to a rewarding career and business success as an adult--relies on a deeper emotional connection. It's the ability to make insights and perceive the world correctly, a sharply tuned thought process built primarily on interpretation of the facts.
Think about the smartest person you know. It's likely someone who is able to discern and comprehend at a higher level, not just someone who knows a lot of information. The most intelligent among us have a deeper emotional connection with the world and other people. They are exceptionally gifted at making both emotional and intellectual decisions, at connecting the dots between the facts and the problem at hand.
That's why, for anyone who has younger kids, there might be a temptation to rely on voicebots like Alexa on the Amazon Echo speaker, Cortana on a Windows computer, or the Assistant on the Google Home speaker and on smartphones, especially as a homework helper. But the bots don't really nurture the emotional relationship required for true intelligence. They merely provide the facts without the connection.
You can ask these bots just about any homework-related question--math problems, questions about the population of a city, trivia, political curiosities--and they will happily oblige, using a cheerful tone that mimics human speech. Alexa and Google can also understand context in the conversation. If you ask "How old is President Trump?" and then "Where was he born?" the bots will understand you mean President Trump.
That's the good news. As homework helpers, the bots can provide plenty of assistance. As a way to help kids become smart and insightful, they are seriously lacking.
To find out more about why this is a problem, I checked in with Thomas Gagliano, an author and relationship coach. According to Gagliano, voicebots like Alexa do provide a lot of information, and that could help with child development in terms of vocabulary at least. However, he noted that any bot will fail to create an emotional connection with a child.
"The tradeoff in using a voicebot to communicate information to the child on a continual basis is that the bot will not help the child build a healthy personal skill set," says Gagliano, speaking to Inc.com. "There will be a deficit in imagination and communication when the child's parental source is a computer-like system. The communication and translation does not include the emotions needed to create healthy communication skills. Additionally, children are already getting addicted to screens, computers, and texting, and this only fuels the problem in developing healthy intimacy and closeness with other people."
Gagliano also noted that there is another downside to relying on bots. It means parents might not provide the emotional support kids need, and they might even leave the kids unattended for longer periods, which means the child might start perceiving that the parent doesn't care or doesn't want to form an emotional bond.
Do we need to throw out the Alexa bots then? Not really.
As usual, the secret to good parenting is found in creating balance. Some exposure to a voicebot can be valuable--they are essentially voice-activated versions of a Google search. By using them in moderation, parents can provide a good way for the child to check on a few facts here and there. But using the bots for every homework assignment or even as a substitute for your own education efforts can be detrimental, once you understand that raising intelligent kids is mostly about the personal connection.