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Earlier this month, I gave the closing keynote at NMC’s summer conference: “‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell About Robots Raising Children.” The talk was inspired by a product showcased at CES in January: Mattel’s Aristotle, which at the time purported to be “baby’s first virtual assistant,” a baby monitor that could not just order diapers and play soothing sounds but could raise the baby. According to the technology press, at least.

Indeed, this year, there’ve been an increasing number of products and promises about what Stirling University’s Ben Williamson calls “semi-automated luxury parenting.”

Some might see “parenting technology” and “education technology” as distinct. Or at least, the latter is typically viewed as something for the school, the classroom. But there is, of course, an overlap when it comes to those technologies pitched at new parents and at parents of pre-schoolers that promise to boost babies’ brainpower. (And that’s not to mention too all the talk these days about “lifelong learning.”)

Many of these parenting technologies fall under the umbrella of “smart” devices and “the Internet of Things.” Smart baby monitors. Smart baby blankets. Smart toys. Home automation technologies – which reach into children’s bedrooms to monitor and track their activities, including play-time – rely on WiFi and virtual assistants like Alexa (made by Amazon) or Google Home (made by Google obviously).

While the focus for (education) technologists might be on the “automated” parts of “semi-automated luxury parenting,” I think that adjective “luxury” is worth thinking about too. I’ve long argued that education technologies exacerbate inequalities. In the case of automated parenting, there will no doubt be differences on surveillance, criminalization, and marketing based on race and class (among other factors).

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Audrey Watters


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