Alexis Hiniker studies the design of ubiquitous computing systems, including smartphones, conversational agents, video platforms, and social media. She examines their effect on children and families, investigating for example, how these technologies influence children’s relationships, resilience, executive function, and wellbeing. She translates evidence-based techniques for supporting healthy development into the design of novel systems for young children.
My plans for the fellowship period
With the support of the Jacobs Foundation, I will examine the influence of conversational agents like Siri, Alexa, and Xiaodu on children’s conversational habits. How do these systems currently affect children’s speech, and what kinds of habits do they reinforce?
I will then work together with families to understand the types of conversational habits they value, and I will work with child development experts, including educators and therapists, to identify evidence-based conversational habits that support children’s social and emotional development. I will create new interactions for conversational agents that reinforce the habits families value and support children in cultivating prosocial communication habits.
The long-term support of the fellowship will enable me to conduct an extended international field study to understand the effect of these redesigned agents on children’s habits and wellbeing.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Digital assistants that include a conversational agent currently have the fastest adoption rate of any consumer-facing technology, and millions of children around the globe interact with Siri and Alexa every day. Children’s conversational habits play an important role in the relationships they cultivate and their social and emotional wellbeing. My pilot work suggests interactions with conversational agents can be a powerful influence in shaping these habits. My fellowship work aims to ensure this influence is a positive one.