Parents’ ontological beliefs regarding the use of conversational agents at home: resisting the neoliberal discourse

Kucirkova, Natalia and Hiniker, Alexis (2023). Parents’ ontological beliefs regarding the use of conversational agents at home: resisting the neoliberal discourse. Learning, Media and Technology (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2023.2166529

Abstract

This paper develops a critical perspective on the use of conversational agents (CAs) with children at home. Drawing on interviews with eleven parents of pre-school children living in Norway, we illustrate the ways in which parents resisted the values epitomised by CAs. We problematise CAs’ attributes in light of parents’ ontological perceptions of what it means to be human and outline how their attitudes correspond to Bourdieu’s [1998a. Acts of Resistance. New York: New Press] concept of acts of resistance. For example, parents saw artificial conversation designed for profit as a potential threat to users’ autonomy and the instant gratification of CAs as a threat to children’s development. Parents’ antecedent beliefs map onto the ontological tensions between human and non-human attributes and challenge the neoliberal discourse by demanding freedom and equality for users rather than productivity and economic gain. Parents’ comments reflect the belief that artificial conversation with a machine inappropriately and ineffectively mimics a nuanced and intimate human-to-human experience in service of profit motives.

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