By Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News
Listen to “Research shows parents and teens optimistic about Generative AI” on Spreaker.
1-minute ConnectSafely Report for CBS News Radio with a brief comment by survey co-director Kara Sundby
We hear a lot about Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI), including gloom and doom scenarios about its potential dangers. As an internet safety advocate, I worry about all technologies’ impact on well-being and personal safety along with potential social, political and economic impact, and GAI is no exception. So, it’s no surprise that others do as well, including, of course, parents and teens who might worry about its impact on their families.
But a recent study conducted by Kantar on behalf of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that both parents and teens are not only aware of GAI but also mostly optimistic about its impact. The study included teens (13-17) and their parents completing an online survey with 1,000 participants in each of three countries: the U.S., Japan and Germany. I’ll focus mostly on the U.S. responses, which, for the most part, were similar to those from the two other countries.
Familiarity and use
When it comes to awareness, U.S. teens (69%) and parents (74%) are mostly familiar with GAI with 25% of parents saying they “know a lot,” compared with 22% of teens, which itself is different from most other tech issues where teens tend to be more aware than their parents. But what’s most surprising is that 45% of U.S. teens agreed that their parents know more than they do about GAI while only about a third (32%) of teens said that they know more. Parents concurred, with the same percentage saying their teen knows more compared with 43% saying “I know more than my teen.”
The report didn’t speculate why parents feel more clued-in than teens, but I’m guessing it has something to do with extensive news coverage of GAI and the fact that parents are more likely to consume mainstream news than are teens. Teens are more likely to get their news from digital sources, including social media.
Even though parents are more likely to say they are aware of GAI, U.S. teens are slightly more likely (67%) than parents (64%) to “have used or tried using genAI.”
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. parents and 63% of teens say they mostly use GAI for its analytical tools while 67% of parents and 61% of teens have used it for creative tasks. The report said that teens are more likely (74% vs. 59%) to use GAI “to be more efficient at tasks including proofreading and creating synopses of longer works.”
Only about a third (34%) of American parents feel that they “don’t have enough information and education about genAI,” compared with 47% in Germany and 73% in Japan.
Respondents were asked to rate their top concerns, and both parents and teens picked job loss as No. 1, followed by the spread of false information. Parents picked “loss of critical thinking skills” as No. 3, while teens were more likely to worry about “AI surpassing humans.” The teens picked “new forms of harassment” as their fourth concern, but that didn’t make it on the parents’ top 5 list. Both groups rated “growing dependency on genAI” as No. 5.
“Teens,” said the report “are acutely aware of the potential for genAI to be used for more sophisticated means of bullying, or to create new or intensified forms of harassment. From parents’ perspective, many express trepidation that their teens will lose opportunities to engage in deep analysis, original ideas and meaningful thinking.”
Parents were asked if they need more information to help them guide their teens, and 55% of U.S. parents said they wanted to know more about the potential risks vs. the benefits. Just under half (49%) picked benefits. Fortunately, these are not mutually exclusive. ConnectSafely is currently working on a parent’s guide to GAI which will focus on both risks and benefits.
Perceived vs. actual risks
It’s important to remember that a survey measures perceived risks, not necessarily actual ones. GAI is still very new, and we don’t yet know what the real risks are. It’s not yet clear, for example, whether GAI will result in a net loss or a net gain in jobs, though it’s likely to have a negative impact on some job categories. We know that GAI can result in misinformation, but there are efforts in place to use it to help combat that very scourge. The same can be said for bullying and harassment. Time will tell, and we might be surprised to find that some of our fears don’t turn into major problems, while other problems may emerge that we are not thinking about right now. I know this from personal experience as the author of the1994 booklet, “Child Safety on the Information Highway,” which was written before there was a lot of research and well before some problems emerged that I wasn’t able to anticipate nearly 30 years ago.
Generally positive perceptions of GAI
Despite concerns and plenty of negative press, parents do feel positive about their teens’ use of GAI. Two-thirds (66%) of U.S. parents said they felt positive, compared with 70% in Germany and 59% in Japan.
About two-third of parents (66%) and teens (65%) agreed that “Using genAI tools will be a vital skill to have to remain competitive in school or career.” About 60% of both groups also feel that “GenAI will augment or supplement humans, but we’ll still need human creativity,” vs. “it will surpass human capabilities and take over many tasks,” while 55% of parents and 57% of teens say it “will make it easier to stay connected with others,” vs. “it will make it harder to stay connected with others.”
Trying it out
Although this survey sheds light on how adults and teens are using GAI and paints a reasonably optimistic picture of how it’s perceived, the best way for you to learn about GAI is to try it. Google Bard, Microsoft Bing and ChatGPT all offer free access to GAI services that make it easy for anyone to ask questions or create content. I find it fascinating to try out different scenarios on these services and have used them in my work to generate ideas and recently used ChatGPT’s Dalle2 image-generation tool to create artwork to accompany some of my blog posts. I understand that it can make mistakes, so I never rely on it without verifying information. I also have an ethical responsibility to do my own work in my own words, so I use it mainly for ideas and research rather than a shortcut to wordsmithing. But, just as I can’t imagine going back to my old typewriter, it’s now hard to imagine doing creative work without getting at least a little help from Generative AI.