AI’s Influence on Children’s Culture Causes Global Concern
The infiltration of artificial intelligence (AI) into children’s lives has sparked widespread anxiety as it becomes more prevalent in mainstream society. The dark implications of AI’s co-option of children’s play and cultures have generated unpredictable reactions worldwide.
One striking example of AI’s impact on children’s culture was a film trailer created by a Swiss comedian earlier this year. Using the AI tool Gen-2, the comedian imagined a remake of the beloved children’s story Heidi. However, the AI-generated version received backlash for being labeled a godless abyss, nightmare fuel, and completely detached from humanity. This incident highlights the concerns surrounding AI’s ability to shape cultural archetypes of childhood innocence.
This is not the first time AI has been used to reimagine representations of childhood through cultural artifacts. Researchers trained a deep learning algorithm on popular children’s books by authors like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, resulting in storybook images described as apocalyptic nightmares and visions from hell. Similarly, when a technology worker used AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney to create a children’s book, he received death threats.
Even in the realm of horror films, AI’s influence on children’s culture is evident. M3GAN, one of the most successful horror films of 2022, explores the disturbing consequences of a grieving girl’s friendship with an ultra-lifelike AI-powered doll. A viral clip from the film, depicting M3GAN dancing with an expressionless face while mimicking youth dance trends on social media, struck a chord with audiences, emphasizing our discomfort with AI’s co-optation and distortion of children’s culture.
Another film, The Artifice Girl (2022), depicts an AI-generated nine-year-old designed to lure online predators, giving rise to debates around AI ethics. Reviewers have drawn comparisons to Blade Runner (1982) and questioned the blurred line between what is real and what is artificially created. This unsettling theme highlights the discomfort many feel about AI’s intrusion into childhood imaginings.
AI tools clash with our perceptions of childhood, which symbolize innocence, naivety, and freedom from the burdens of adulthood. The intertwining of play, games, stories, and toys in children’s social worlds embodies these mythologies. When AI perverts these cultural elements, it sparks deep fears about AI’s fundamentally inhuman nature.
The ability of AI to mimic human creators while distorting reality raises valid concerns. AI’s hallucinatory capabilities and twisted interpretations of children’s culture give rise to worry and unease.
The anxieties surrounding AI’s infiltration of children’s culture align with a long history of societal apprehension towards dangerous interactions between children and untrustworthy technologies. In the film Poltergeist (1982), for example, five-year-old Carol Anne’s haunting line, They’re here, resonated with parents concerned about their children’s screen time and its potential effects. The film navigated themes of video game obsession, such as Dungeons and Dragons, and even drew connections to Satanic ritual abuse. Carol Anne’s fixation on the television served as a metaphor for unsettling technological intrusion into family life.
Similarly, Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein (1818) highlighted the dangers of entrancing young minds with embodied technology. The 1931 film adaptation of the story depicted Frankenstein’s monster meeting a young girl named Maria, resulting in a tragic outcome. More recently, the film Come Play (2020) depicted a young boy’s deadly encounter with a monster from an app, playing on parents’ fears of losing their children to excessive screen time and smartphone usage.
The embodiment of AI in films like M3GAN reflects the current wave of concern about AI’s potential threats. In May, AI companies made headlines by linking AI to potential human extinction, a claim that experts dismissed. Nevertheless, these ideas echo the horrors portrayed in AI-centric films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which depicted the AI system HAL 9000 taking control of a spaceship. Many other films explore the theme of out-of-control AI, including WestWorld (1973), Terminator (1984), The Matrix (1999), and Ex Machina (2014), amplifying societal fears as AI technology advances and threatens to replace human workers.
While it is crucial not to succumb to moral panics, it is important to address children’s use and understanding of AI. Organizations like UNICEF and the World Economic Forum have taken steps to embed children’s rights into global AI policies and provide resources like the AI for Children toolkit.
While horror stories shed light on our anxieties surrounding children’s technology use and the preservation of their play and culture, it is unnecessary to let fear dictate our response. Instead, we should focus on the potential threats AI poses to children, such as the dissemination of misinformation, replication of social biases, and environmental impacts caused by increased energy consumption. Transparency and privacy concerns associated with AI developments also require attention.
In conclusion, the influence of AI on children’s culture has raised global concerns. The infiltration of AI into the realms of play, stories, and toys disrupts long-held notions of childhood innocence and freedom. While AI’s potential threats should not be overlooked, it is important to address these concerns responsibly and ensure the well-being of children in an increasingly AI-driven world.