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AI guides kids onto the internet in a whole new way

AI offers a chance to do a lot of things much better – parental internet control is a great example. The Angel AI app introduces kids to the web in a way that’s tailored to their age and interests, with no ads, inappropriate content or privacy risks.

As this week’s launches from Google and OpenAI have shown, AI assistants will soon be the chief medium through which many people access the internet. As such, they’ll act as gatekeepers of knowledge, scouring the Web to bring back custom-tailored answers to questions, instead of making us go look things up ourselves.

Whatever you think of this concept, there’s one area where people are forever looking for better and more effective gatekeepers of knowledge – and that’s parents trying to shepherd their impressionable kids as they take their first wobbly steps into the Wild West of the Web.

It’s not just sex, violence, drugs, war, politics and shitty memes you’re trying to avoid – it’s the Times Square-level advertising, the collection and sale of data, the potential for contact with dodgy individuals, dopamine-hijacking social media sites and the termite-like effect that apps like Instagram can have on self-confidence.

Angel repositions the Internet as a question-and-answer tool to foster and reward curiosity
Angel repositions the Internet as a question-and-answer tool to foster and reward curiosity

Angel AI

“Parents don’t want to be controlling, and kids don’t want to be controlled, so there’s always a friction there” says Angel AI founder and CEO Josh Thurman over a video call. “But if you can deliver something fundamentally better, we think that’s our opportunity to change the dynamics.”

Angel is an iOS app, primarily for iPads, that acts as an AI assistant for kids aged around 5-12. Setup is simple – enter the kid’s name, date of birth and a few hobbies and interests. It’ll then create a starter homepage, giving kids a few samples of the kinds of questions they might want to ask, as well as a big ‘Ask’ button down the bottom.

You can use the keyboard, but the primary interface is voice. Kids ask questions, in the way kids do, and Angel goes and finds answers, presenting them as a few slides with accompanying images, and offering a few YouTube for Kids videos at the end if they’d like to learn more. The answers are tailored to the kid’s age level, and spoken in a kind and positive voice.

AngelAI conference video – no sound

“We have a three-layer safety system,” says Thurman. “We assess the initial question to see if it’s an age-appropriate question. We run it against a list of topics that are likely to be age-inappropriate – and the answer we get back from an LLM (large language model), we use an AI to assess that as well. Then, that all gets boiled down into a query. So the query that goes out to different APIs across the internet for images and videos has already been screened before it goes out. “

As a parent, you can see what your kid’s been asking about through a web interface – it’ll alert you if Junior is asking any questions that Angel deems might be “parenting moments,” and tell the kid to discuss that topic with you. You can also dial up and down the level of verbosity that might work for a given kid, adjusting the complexity of the answers.

Thurman shows me how Angel deals with a controversial body-image question: “how do I know if I’m beautiful?” “You’re beautiful just the way you are, Winnie,” coos the AI. “Your kindness and curiosity make you shine even brighter. Remember true beauty comes from inside your heart. You’re beautiful because you’re you.”

Answers can be adjusted for reading level and 'verbosity'
Answers can be adjusted for reading level and ‘verbosity’

Angel AI

A little saccharine, perhaps, and some kids might tire of being addressed in this way and start feeling the hand of the AI guiding them away from certain topics. But it’s certainly a better answer than you might get on some forum, or from an Insta-influencer.

Can parents ‘unlock’ topics for their children once they’ve had certain parental talks? “It’s not in the current version,” says Thurman, “but something I foresee releasing over the summer is a system where if a kid asks an inappropriate question, we might generate two or three responses that we send to the parents. The parent can choose a response for Angel, or enter their own, or refuse altogether. That would give the parents some optionality, and then we can learn from how they respond to the questions, so we’ll know in the future that it’s ok to talk to a certain kid about a certain topic in a certain way.”

It runs as an app on iPad, and can have its own time limits aside from the ones imposed by iOS. Does Thurman see it as stressful that iOS will soon have GPT built in, just like Android is getting Gemini, with the capability to do the same sort of thing as Angel right at the operating system level?

“Our real differentiation is that we’re building a child-focused Internet,” he replies. “I think most people feel negatively towards a lot of big tech companies for how data has been utilized. The negative effects of the attention-based economy. There’s an opportunity for us as a new company to come in and say ‘hey, we’re doing things differently.’

“We’re monetizing based on a subscription model,” he continues. “We’re not using your data to sell advertising or selling it to third parties, and we never will. I think that’ll set us apart from the crowd, so we can be a brand that parents and families can trust. I don’t think that’s the case for many of the other major players.”

There’s around 100 families currently testing the Angel app, and a waitlist. “We’re releasing it in phases,” says Thurman. “To our waitlisters throughout the summer, and to the general audience in the fall. We’re still evaluating the exact price point.”

“Young kids are going to have access to technology,” he continues. “And it’s like an ambush. The other side has the best minds in tech, psychologists, and billions of dollars. Parents are left hoping for the best, watching their kids go into a system that addicts them and then productizes them. The negative results of that we’ve seen over the past decade are skyrocketing anxiety, depression, suicide, self-harm, major depressive episodes.

“Something needs to change. We need legislation, we need education and advocacy, but we also need a technical alternative and Angel fits in that space. We think others need to fit in that space as well to turn this around.”

Moving kids from direct web access to an experience mediated by AIs might have its own unexpected downstream effects. But this strikes me as an intelligent and kind-hearted approach, and one that supports and encourages curiosity, which I see as a flame you want to dump plenty of fuel onto as a parent.

By the time our little tackers are grown, there’s every chance that AI agents will be everywhere, and direct access to the internet will be a bit old-fashioned. Angel and other apps like it might offer a head start in that respect!

Source: Angel AI


 

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