"Alexa, Can I Program You?": Student Perceptions of Conversational Artificial Intelligence Before and After Programming Alexa

Jessica Van Brummelen, Viktoriya Tabunshchyk, Tommy Heng

Growing up in an artificial intelligence-filled world, with Siri and Amazon Alexa often within arm's - or speech's - reach, could have significant impact on children. Conversational agents could influence how students anthropomorphize computer systems or develop a theory of mind. Previous research has explored how conversational agents are used and perceived by children within and outside of learning contexts. This study investigates how middle and high school students' perceptions of Alexa change through programming their own conversational agents in week-long AI education workshops. Specifically, we investigate the workshops' influence on student perceptions of Alexa's intelligence, friendliness, aliveness, safeness, trustworthiness, human-likeness, and feelings of closeness. We found that students felt Alexa was more intelligent and felt closer to Alexa after the workshops. We also found strong correlations between students' perceptions of Alexa's friendliness and trustworthiness, and safeness and trustworthiness. Finally, we explored how students tended to more frequently use computer science-related diction and ideas after the workshops. Based on our findings, we recommend designers carefully consider personification, transparency, playfulness and utility when designing CAs for learning contexts.

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