Parenting in an AI world

Is AI a friend or foe in the parenting journey?

Artificial Intelligence has been in the news recently, with several of its pioneers voicing concern over the long-term safety of the “AI machine.” As the machine learning behind AI gets ever more complex and powerful, the worry is that future generations become so reliant on guidance and reassurance from all of that information floating around in cyberspace, that we lose touch with the skills and emotions that make us who we are.

But what about the issues that are intrinsically human, those life decisions based on a mix of logical, factual and illogical, emotive input? How does AI navigate these waters? What is the future of parenting in an AI world?

ParentIntel recently published a very informative piece looking at how AI can support parenting. This focussed on things like personalised learning and AI as a part of health and safety monitoring, indeed, AI is being heralded in the next level of medical management for conditions like diabetes.

Perhaps the most primal and instinctive part of humanity itself is reproduction, not the complex biological process, but rather the choices we make in nurturing and developing this tiny life we have created? Can AI truly understand the sometimes irrational thought process behind the decisions we make while raising our children, or is it simply a source of regurgitated logical scenarios based on analysis of risk? We wanted to find out!

stylised image of robot sat with baby

One of our recent blog posts was a 500-word piece titled “Is my child ready for potty training?” We asked Chat GPT to write a blog of the same length with the same title and the results were actually pretty good, albeit a little cold and fact-based. The result was a series of clear steps to determine your baby’s readiness and then how to approach the actual process of training. This could be largely down to the fact that potty training is, usually, a logical series of steps, like a flow chart. This combined with the sheer amount of online information about potty training that the AI bots have at their virtual fingertips makes this not such a surprising result!

We then started thinking how AI would process those truly gut-based parenting decisions; those moments where we find ourselves clueless and terrified!

A key worry for new parents is the interpretation of cries; is my little one hungry, suffering with wind or in pain? When asked “How do I know if my baby is hungry or in pain?” the chat bot started with a reassurance that being concerned is a natural parental response – an almost human opener! The response then went on to break down the physical traits and behaviours associated with hunger and pain in babies. In this case AI made an assessment of a situation that, as a parent, is often clouded by emotion and concern and put it into comprehensive, logical steps. Again, applying a machine like process flow made analysis of the situation reasoned and rational – neither of which are easy traits to apply when your baby is crying in your arms.

So, the question this raises is to what extent parenting is just a set of routines, and are these routines mirrored worldwide with subtle cultural differences? Also, to what level do we cloud these routines with natural human emotion?

Sure, huge swathes of the parenting experience are based on routines and processes – we are told from day one of parenthood that “baby needs routine.” It is drummed into us that we need regular patterns for sleeping, eating, bathing and changing so it is unsurprising that AI can use these routines to answer questions around most aspects of raising a child.

The key take-out from our little experiment has been that AI is like the ultimate Google search. We’ve all sat there using the internet to assess the decisions we are making; AI takes these search results on a Global scale and moulds them into an opinion. In some ways this is a positive as any internet search will throw up conflicting and contrasting results (based on human opinion) – AI has the capacity to collate and extrapolate to generate a reasoned result. AI can give long form, reasoned advice or information on factual matters – “my child has grazed their knee, what do I do?” or “what time should my six-year-old go to bed?” Where AI fails, and is likely to always fail, is in the tenderness we need to give and feel as a parent. The best advice in the world is often no substitute for a touch on the arm or a smile and a reassurance that “you’re doing OK.” So much of our parenting journey relies on reassurance and peer advice. Emotionally, the exact same advice coming from a friend is immeasurably more reassuring and relatable than words of wisdom from a chat bot.

The world is concerned that AI is coming for our jobs but as Mums and Dads we don’t need to worry. Just yet!

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