Why We’re Building a Smart Speaker for Kids

My name is Kevin Elgan.

I’ve been focusing on education technology (or technology education) for children my entire career, first at Tynker (which teaches kids to code), then Piper (which is a build-it-yourself computer for children). Since then I’ve had a daughter of my own which has led me to reevaluate the role of technology in my family’s life. Now, more than ever, I’m passionately determined to revolutionize education technology in a healthy and socially responsible way.

Credit: “Screenagers” by MyDoc Productions

I’ve spent the last year creating Chatterbox to help solve the “kids and technology” problem. On the one hand, kids are becoming screen addicts at an early age. On the other hand, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are “black boxes” and kids have no idea how they work. Today’s technology is neither teaching kids how current technology works, nor preparing them to cope with future technology.

Today’s toddlers are the first generation to grow up without any memory of the world before artificial intelligence in the home.

Increasingly, kids are using smart speakers as well — devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePods. According to Commonsense Media, nearly one-quarter of households now have at least one smart speaker in their homes. Today’s toddlers are the first generation to grow up without any memory of the world before artificial intelligence in the home. Kids are treating talking smart devices like people — to be listened to, treated respectfully, and even obeyed.

While kids are immersed in technology, it’s all a big mystery to them. There is a common misconception that “using” technology “teaches” kids how technology works. They’re not learning how it all works, but instead they are learning to become passive consumers in the new world of surveillance capitalism. They’re learning to focus on phones instead of on the people around them. Kids are acquiring habits that will reduce their ability to create, grow and think for themselves.

Kids are learning to focus on screens instead of the people around them.

This is all wrong. Kids should spend less time with screens. And they need to understand how the technology all around them works.

7 year old girl building a Chatterbox smart speaker

That’s why I created Chatterbox, the smart speaker kids build themselves. Once they’ve built it, they teach it how to talk using a Lego-like, building-block software interface. And they can keep teaching it new skills while learning a whole lot of new skills themselves along the way.

Here’s how Chatterbox solves the problems technology is creating for kids:

  • By building Chatterbox, kids learn what smart speakers are made of
  • By teaching Chatterbox, smart speakers are de-mystified so kids understand them
  • By crafting conversations, kids learn how to communicate clearly with people
  • By using Chatterbox, kids have fun building and creating
  • By making Chatterbox their main computer, kids get their eyes off screens
  • By pressing the Chatterbox button to talk, kids get used to privacy, not surveillance
  • By exploring Chatterbox, kids learn programming concepts like intents, logic, conditionals to build voice apps
  • By re-using Chatterbox, kids learn environmental responsibility (everything is re-usable or recyclable)

Every parent and every teacher wants to prepare their kids for the future. And that future is ubiquitous voice-interaction and artificial intelligence. Chatterbox teaches them to build it, teach it, use it, control it and, above all, understand it.

Chatterbox, the friendly voice assistant for teaching kids about artificial intelligence

If you share our belief that technology for kids should be educational, private and respectful of kids, then please join our movement. Stay up to date with Chatterbox news by subscribing to our newsletter and help us change the conversation about kids and technology.