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Can AI help with parenting?

There are endless apps for making a parent’s life easier these days, and many of them are powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). It can do everything from creating personalised bedtime stories to meal planning. But Professor Albert Bifet from the University of Waikato warns there is a dark side to be wary of too. By SONIA SPEEDY

It may seem like AI suddenly sprung out of nowhere, but it’s been gaining traction steadily for some time – think the Google search engine, predictive text, grammar correction services, and chatbots. However, the emergence of technologies like ChatGPT and Google BARD has really ramped things up.

Prof Albert Bifet is the director of Te Ipu o te Mahara (the AI Institute) at the University of Waikato. He defines AI as data-based computer science.

“AI is a technology that can be used in good and bad ways,” he says.

“We need to be careful about the risks but at the same time take advantage of the technology.”

While Europe has legislation underway to require companies to label AI-generated products with information on the sources of the data they’re using behind the scenes, New Zealand is not at that point yet. As a result, Prof Bifet says people need to take care with the tools they use.

Meanwhile, Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, is predicting that by 2026 AI could be responsible for creating up to 90 percent of all media content.

“It’s like any other internet tool, parents need to check the quality,” Prof Bifet says.

And this goes for the tools children are using too – parents need to stay abreast of which tools they’re using and the quality of those. And there is a time and a place for kids using these tools, Prof Bifet says.

“ChatGPT is good for writing text, but kids need to already know how to write first – like you use a calculator after you know how to do the calculations yourself.”

Indeed, a recent survey by cyber safety brand Norton, found that more than half (51 percent) of Kiwi parents with kids aged between 4 and 17 were not willing to allow or trust their children to use AI for schoolwork.

“It’s important to be able to know which are the good ones (AI tools) and which are the bad ones. It’s the same as social media – be careful with the content.” Prof Bifet says.

He believes critical thinking skills will be essential for young people in navigating the AI world, so helping your children to develop these sorts of skills is important.

Just like other online tools and games, some AI tools may be addictive, and parents need to be aware of this for their kids (and themselves) too.

Prof Bifet suggests putting the same rules and controls around AI tools for your kids as you would with social media.

That said, AI can make life easier. So how can we make use of it as parents?

Five ways parents can make use of AI

  1. Ask an AI tool like ChatGPT to write you a story tailored specifically for your child. E.g. you could ask it to write a story for a five-year-old, featuring their Nana and Grandad and pet dog Ruff. You could always ask it to focus on how much fun teeth brushing is if you need a bit of help in that department.
  2. Ask it to prepare a weekly meal plan, specifying any particular dietary requirements in the criteria. Or ask for recipe suggestions for kids who don’t like veggies.
  3. Get birthday planning help. We asked for food ideas for a six-year-old’s bunny-themed birthday party and got a load of useful ideas.
  4. Get ideas for fun activities for a family of four on a rainy day.
  5. Ask it to help plan your next family holiday, and to suggest places you could go.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are new tools appearing all the time. Just remember that AI doesn’t always get things right and is only as good as the information it’s based on.

Learn more about online safety for families.

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