Protecting children in the age of AI

  • IASbaba
  • April 20, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 

Protecting children in the age of AI

Context:  Children and adolescents of today are born into a world increasingly powered by virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI).

Like all fundamental technological change, AI is not only changing what humans can do, it is shaping our behaviours, our preferences, our perceptions of the world and of ourselves. 


  • Digital Divide: Not everyone can tap into the opportunities offered by this transformation. According to UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as many as two-thirds of the world’s children do not have access to the Internet at home.
  • Amplify Societal Inequalities:  Unless we take rapid and concerted action to close this digital divide, AI will radically amplify societal inequalities among children of different races, socio-economic background, genders, and regions.
  • Complexity of technology: The expansion and deployment of AI is far outpacing our ability to understand its implications, especially its impact on children. Elders themselves hardly understand the complexity of technology which is preventing us to equip children and young people with the knowledge, tools and awareness to protect themselves
  • Dangers of Child abuse: While video gaming and chat forums offer an online space for children to socialise with their friends, multiple reports identify such virtual playgrounds as “honeypots” for child predators.
  • Challenges with oversight by parents: Short of banning screen time entirely, parents are hard-pressed to keep tabs on just what their kids are doing online, and with whom. With online homework and both the parents working, this oversight has become even more difficult.
  • Business models causing digital addiction: AI systems driving many video games and social networks are designed to keep children hooked, both through algorithms and gimmicks like “streaks”, “likes”, infinite scroll, etc. Even if this is an ancillary consequence of the underlying business model, the damage is done — children, from a tender age through adolescence, are becoming digitally addicted.
  • Reduced attention Span & Social Interactions: Right when they need to be learning concentration skills, emotional and social intelligence, the digital addiction is causing children’s attention to be spliced into ever-thinner slices, and increasingly virtualising their social interactions.
  • Unhealthy Shaping of Worldview: Similarly, right when children and youth are forming their initial views of the world, they are being sucked into virtual deep space, including the universe of fake news, conspiracy theories, hype, hubris, online bullying, hate speech and the likes
  • Echo Chambers causing intolerance: An echo chamber is an environment (aided by AI) where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own. Echo chambers can create misinformation and distort a person’s perspective so they have difficulty considering opposing viewpoints and discussing complicated topics. 
  • Data Harvesting and Privacy: AI powered toys can offer playful and creative opportunities for children, with some even promoting enhanced literacy, social skills and language development. However, they also listen and observe our children, soaking up their data, and with no framework to govern its use

Way Ahead- Simultaneously close the digital divide, and safeguard children’s rights in the age of AI

  • The next phase of the fourth Industrial Revolution must include an overwhelming push to extend Internet access to all children. Governments, private sector, civil society, parents and children must push hard for this now, before AI further deepens the pre-existing inequalities and creates its own disparities.
  • And on mitigating on-line harms, we need a multi-pronged action plan: 
    • we need legal and technological safeguards
    • we need greater awareness among parents, guardians and children on how AI works behind the scenes
    • we need tools, like trustworthy certification and rating systems, to enable sound choices on safe AI apps
    • we need to ban anonymous accounts
    • we need enforceable ethical principles of non-discrimination and fairness embedded in the policy and design of AI systems 
    • we need “do no harm” risk assessments for all algorithms that interact with children or their data. 
    • we need safe online spaces for children, without algorithmic manipulation and with restricted profiling and data collection. 
    • we need online tools (and an online culture) that helps prevent addiction, that promotes attention-building skills, that expands children’s horizons, understanding and appreciation for diverse perspectives, and that builds their social emotional learning capabilities.

Connecting the dots:

  • Fourth Industrial Revolution and its challenges

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