According to the musical Mary Poppins, the perfect nanny has a cheery disposition, no warts, and plays games, all sorts. You may have noticed there is no rule against her being a robot. Kids, meet your new nanny, Alexa.
On Wednesday, Amazon announced the release of a kids’ version of its artificially intelligent digital assistant Alexa called FreeTime, as well as a kid-friendly model of its Echo smart speaker, called an Echo Dot Kids Edition. This new Echo, which is priced at $79.99 and starts shipping May 9, is basically an Echo Dot mini-speaker wrapped in a colored rubber case and prepackaged to include a one-year subscription to Nanny Alexa.
What does Nanny Alexa do? Whatever parents tell her to, via parental controls. In most instances, this means it will be harder for kids to do things with Alexa like shop or listen to songs with explicit lyrics, and parents can also put a limit on how much kids are allowed to use Alexa. Nanny Alexa has also been engineered to be more attuned to kids’ voices, and will supposedly answer questions differently, with more context and using language that will help children learn manners.
FreeTime comes in two tiers; the unlimited version can be downloaded onto existing Echo devices (though not those with screens) for a monthly subscription fee. There’s also a free version available, which includes some of the same kid-friendly features, but less access to kids’ content like radio stations and audiobooks.
Kids love smart speakers, so introducing a special one for them feels like a smart move for Amazon. But if parents already had doubts about letting their kids befriend an A.I. or allowing a smart speaker into their household, slapping a more colorful case on the Echo is unlikely to assuage their fears. That’s a problem even a spoonful of sugar can’t fix.