For all its attractiveness, there is a flip-side to AI and parents need to beware


The launch of artificial intelligence programs such as ChatGPT and GPT-4 have become all the rage in the tech world for their potential to change the worlds of education and work, write reports and term papers, and transform “human relations” in the corporate world. However, artificial intelligence (AI) is not all positive and the underside can become dark very fast.

Ever since the term was coined in the 1950s, AI has charted an accelerating path, integrating itself into the lives of technology users. Today we have smart homes that regulate our environment, GPS programs that guide us to our destinations and track where we go, and chatbots handling customer service.

Given the increasing interaction between humans and their artificial counterparts, it is little wonder that even those at the top of the technology field express concern about the effects of AI on our lives.

In January 2015, the late Stephen Hawking and other technology and artificial intelligence experts wrote an open letter extolling the benefits of AI and warning about potential catastrophic consequences.

The Center for Humane Technology in April 2023 shared in The AI Dilemma that half of AI researchers believe there’s a 10 percent or greater chance that humans go extinct from our inability to control AI.

It’s everywhere

One area where AI is causing heightened concern is in online gaming. According to a report by Healthline, more than 90 percent of children and teens play video games, and in 2008, the Pew Center placed the number of teens playing at 97 percent. And that was long before the COVID-19 pandemic drove children indoors and closer to their machines.

Public safety groups such as SafeOC are acutely aware of the dangers online technology, including AI, pose to youth and young adults.

“There is a dark side to the social interaction that can take place through these online gaming platforms including cyberbullying, online predators and radicalization for domestic and international terrorist cells,” SafeOC’s page on online gaming states.

AI programs can create non-player characters, or NPCs, that act intelligently or creatively, as if controlled by a human player. How these artificially created characters behave and interact with other players can vary drastically.

This has given rise to concerns of the ethical implications of AI in games. Since AI can be programmed to replicate humans, there is growing concern about the potentially toxic relationships between children and youth and the various chatbots with which they interact.

According to the Global Network on Extremism and Technology, “extremist groups are adapting their propaganda to be more interactive.” AI models allow them to create persuasive and interactive products like music, social media content, and video games.

As SafeOC notes, “In addition to other online tactics, terrorists continue to exploit online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity.”

As an example, according to a U.N.’s Expert Roundtable on Video Games and Violent Extremism, a group was able to take the popular Sims series and convert the game to replicate the 2019 terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 people.

Although legislation and policies focusing on data protection, transparency, and accountability are being developed, it is an uphill battle.

What to do?

It is more important than ever for parents to become involved and intimate with their children’s gaming activities and habits. Adults must be the first line of defense.

  • Parents need to talk to children about safe online usage and continually discuss the issue as children grow.
  • Stay involved and game with your kids to better understand their world. Beware, it’s not enough to play a few selected games with your kids. According to the Pew study, boys average playing eight different kinds of games and genres, and girls six. And they play across multiple devices, making it easier to conceal their activities.
  • Research online. Many sites are available for parents to peruse and even share with their children.
  • If you purchase a game console or download a gaming app, learn about the product and set parental controls and security settings. Don’t trust the gaming company to do it.
  • Check out the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings of games. These rate games in four categories from games of everyone to those for mature users.
  • Approve all your children’s gaming and downloads. A study found 90 percent of games rated E 10+ contain violence.
  • Install malware and virus removal software.

It’s a fast-evolving world and it’s difficult to stay apace, but doing so is vital. In all cases, stay wary and most important, if you See Something, Say Something. Parents and children should contact law enforcement immediately if they suspect abuse.

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