Lessons from a machine

A critical look at machines teaching children

This project looks critically at the ethical issues involved if we were to invite machines to teach children. My primary objective is to speculate on a future where machines are already instructing our children and have become part of daily life.

As part of school and home education, the system uses traditional social psychology experiments to understand, evaluate and teach complex human emotions. These include lessons on morals, building character, concepts of gratification and ethics.

This is a speculative design project of developing an algorithm based model for teaching children moral studies - ethics and empathy.

I want to critically look at the ethical issues involved in teaching children through computers and smart systems. Like any other technological solution, this system can be abused. If we eventually come to rely on algorithmic programs as a source of grounding for our belief, values and emotions, then I wanted to show these systems could become significant source of manipulation. An algorithmic model that can earn our trust over time can provide more potent means of persuasion for passive advertisements and possibly even control over individuals.

My primary objective was to speculate on a future where machines are already instructing our children and have become part of daily life through play and games. I tried to understand how we have adopted such smart machines in our lives and how such interactions changes the way we perceive the world around us.

The films showcase the four psychological experiments I conducted to test out how a child and machine might interact - could the machine engage with and influence childrens' development?

Greenspoon_effect: Experiment conducted on children where modification of the content of conversational speech, without the speaker's awareness, through reinforcement given by the machines in the form of expressions of approval /disapproval with a "Beep" sounds.

Heinz_Dilemma: Children are given a story and they need to decide what is right choice in this experiment. The experiment helps machines to understand what is the moral level of the and thus allowing the machine to plan exercises around this.

With this work, I wanted to raise concerns over the extent to which we are willing to introduce machines and technological solutions into children’s lives.

The project is divided into two phases one critically looking at cyber-learning technologies and how it might enhance the way children learn. And the second phase is conducting design workshop to understand the psychological implications machines have on children.

For the project I conducted participatory design research workshops, where children interact with machines. I re-conducted the classical operant conditioning experiments like delayed gratification experiments using machines and robots as a mode of interface and interaction. And from these interactions, I tried to understand and interpret how a child relate to machines and how much are they willing to obey orders given by machines.

Could an algorithmic model that has earned society’s trust through teaching also gain persuasive control over individuals?

9 films were produced to document the process of the different experiments done by the machine on 4 different children. Few scenes from the films



  • Exhibited at the Henry Moore Gallery, Royal College of Art, London, June 2014,
  • Exhibited at the ‘Enter14′ at the Watermans Art Gallery, London, Sept 2024
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