FOSI Report Details Impact AI Will Have on Online Safety

By: Henry Rademacher

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), in collaboration with Kaleido Insights, recently released a research report titled Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. The 24-page report provides a detailed overview of the role AI will play in online safety as relevant technologies become increasingly ubiquitous to the consumer experience. The report’s stated purpose is to “inform parents about how AI will impact their kids’ use of technology.”

Although AI has existed for decades, the past few years have seen it increase exponentially in both quality and prevalence. According to Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the rise of Big Data has played a fundamental role in the proliferation of AI, “data is now driving an explosive commercial growth of AI, ushering in a new era of opportunities and risks.”

Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence argues that AI will have critical impacts on both the online and physical worlds. The introduction of the report provides a brief impact summary as follows: 

In the online world, AI software will define the future of knowledge and decision-making:
1. Empathic computing will increase our reliance on AI
2. AI-powered education technology will scale access to personalized learning 
3. The future of work will demand adaptability and human-AI partnerships
In the physical world, AI-powered hardware will transform the interface of the Internet.
As we shift from screens toward machines, they will increasingly read us in return:
1. Our future homes will autonomously sense us and our needs
2. Digital gaming will integrate with the physical world, and across sectors 
3. Schools will transform into big children’s data hubs”

The report stresses that AI can be difficult to define, as various definitions can “manifest differently depending on the context.” According to the report, 

AI is best understood as an umbrella term for a variety of methods and tools which mimic cognitive functions across three areas:
1. Perception/Vision 
2. Speech/Language 
3. Learning/Analysis”

Most AI that is currently deployed “acts as an extension of digital platforms and software capabilities.” Society is “in the early days of commercial AI” and it is reasonable to expect that it will advance rapidly in the near future. Therefore, the report states that it is necessary for all parties involved to “define a culture of responsibility, where government, law enforcement, industry, parents, educators, and kids work together.” 

According to Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, AI is already more common than most people realize. For example, “FOSI has found that 23% of American parents have a voice-interactive smart speaker in their home.” While the functions of these devices are limited today, they are likely to become far more sophisticated in the near future. Smart speakers are just one of many technologies that will generate both benefits and risks as they become more advanced. 

Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence provides a detailed analysis of the role that Internet of Things (IoT), “an all-encompassing term for the interconnectivity of digital and physical worlds,” will play in revolutionizing the ways that AI is used in the future. There are already “billions more IoT connected devices that humans on the planet, and this number is estimated to reach over 34 billion within the next five years.”

A 2017 FOSI study “found that 45% of parents indicate their child has 3 or more IoT devices of their own.” Many consumers find IoT devices appealing for their perceived safety benefits. Devices like smart doorbells, have already ushered in a booming market for smart homes, and this sector is expected to experience substantial growth in the near future. AI is already critical to the use of many IoT devices, and the two technologies will become more and more intertwined as they continue to advance.

Although IoT will open up a world of new possibilities, it will also pose many risks to consumers if the devices are not properly secured. Networks, router, and devices connected to IoT are already targets for hackers and other malicious entities. As IoT infrastructure becomes a key component of various sectors of the global economy, it will be paramount that all involved parties take the necessary precautions to safeguard said infrastructure.

It is expected that both AI and IoT will be widely adopted for educational purposes in the near future. While this will present many new opportunities for students and educators, it will also present new risks. According to Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, “Schools’ adoption of IoT is particularly relevant to youth safety because it catalyzes the volume and variety of data collected.” This data will be extremely valuable to businesses, thus making it a prime target for hackers and data thieves. It will be necessary for the businesses producing these devices and the educational institutions utilizing them to work together in order to promote safety and security.

While the impacts of AI and IoT will be substantial in the home and the classroom, Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence makes the interesting point that their impacts on young consumers could be most pronounced within the context of gaming. According to the report, “the astronomical growth of software games, e-sports, mobile apps, and massive multiplayer online games have raised hundreds of billions of dollars, influenced tech designs, and created passionate global communities.”

For many children, video games represent their first immersive use of technology. Virtual Reality (VR) is expected to revolutionize the multi-billion-dollar video game industry over the next decade. The confluence of AI, IoT, and VR could result in new gaming experiences so enveloping that they become keystone experiences in children’s lives. Many of the world’s biggest corporations have spent billions of dollars trying to make this happen. If it does, the possibility for tremendous rewards will be counterbalanced by potential risks.

For example, VR good enough to credibly mimic reality could have a revolutionary impact on the education system. It could benefit children with developmental disabilities who are not receptive to traditional education. It could also make school much more enjoyable in general. However, the potential risks of such a scenario are substantial. As with other IoT devices, the data that VR devices would collect would be an appealing target to data thieves and malicious actors. The potential for addiction would likely be high as well, as video game addiction is already a common problem for children across age groups.

Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence lists six areas in which AI’s increasing ubiquity will present opportunities as well as risks for parents and children. The areas are: AI in Personal AssistanceAI in EducationAI in WorkAI & IoT in the HomeAI & IoT in Gaming, and AI & IoT in Schools

The report provides six “Generational Lessons” for parents to use as a guideline in navigating the increasing proliferation of AI. The lessons are: Model Good BehaviorParental Strategies May DifferBe ProactiveExperience Analogous ThinkingMinimize Kids’ Data Debt, and It Takes A Village. The key takeaways from these lessons are that parents must set a good example for their children, while remaining aware of what the products they are using actually do. Parents who are not informed could end up exposing their children to excessive levels of data harvesting, as well as potentially unsecure devices that are vulnerable to malicious actors. 

Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence stresses that societal forces will play a key role in the new technological ecosystem that AI will usher in. “Cultural, political, economic, and environmental forces” will shape the manner in which AI changes society. The future is unpredictable and the speed at which various technologies are advancing makes it difficult for even the most informed analysts to make specific predictions. 

It is important to understand that AI and IoT are not the only technologies that will fundamentally change the future of how kids use technology. 5G, cryptocurrencies, driverless cars, and many other emerging technologies will converge to form a technological landscape that will be almost unrecognizable from the one that exists today. The unpredictability and the risks that it presents further necessitate “the need for a culture of responsibility.”

Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence had three consistent themes: AI will fundamentally change society in the near future, this change will present both opportunities and risks to parents and children, and all parties involved will need to create a “culture of responsibility” to make the new digital ecosystem safe for children. The report states that “everyone must play a role” in making this happen and outlines six parties that will play a critical part.

Government, Law Enforcement, Industry, Parents, Educators, and Kids will all have responsibilities in making sure that the new AI driven technological ecosystem is safe and beneficial for consumers, especially children. For each group, the report outlines three responsibilities they will need to fulfill in order to responsibly play their role in fostering a safe and secure future. Cooperation between groups will be paramount, and any weak link in the chain could have dire consequences.

In conclusion, Online Safety in the Age of Artificial Intelligence states that “A dynamic and modern world requires adaptability and resilience for individuals and organizations alike…we all have a role in shaping adoption and governance of our future technologies.”

Photo credit: Claudia Orsini (flickr)