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Hello Barbie talks to children using WiFi, cloud of learned responses

If you believe a new New York Times report, then your child’s next Barbie will be possessed by the spirit of WiFi.

Mattel, Barbie’s rights owner and one of the largest toy companies on the planet, has plans to debut the WiFi-enabled “Hello Barbie” that’s inspired by Apple’s Siri voice assistant.

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It will use a system developed by ToyTalk, a company specialising in crafting interactive toys, allowing the Barbie’s owners to converse with the human-shaped hunk of plastic. The company’s technology was originally created for on-screen characters, notes the Times, but the technology has been proven to be quite a hit in tangible playthings.

Oren Jacob, ToyTalk’s CEO, notes that Barbie is quite an interesting character to work with.

She’s a huge character with an enormous back story. […] We hope that when she’s ready, she will have thousands and thousands of things to say and you can speak to her for hours and hours.

Although this in theory sounds wonderful, there are many issues with this doll.

It isn’t too far off from Mattel‘s original talking doll — Chatty Cathy — which could utter phrases after a string on the doll’s back was pulled, but with that said, it’s vastly different too.

Just like any WiFi-enabled device connected to the cloud, Barbie will have access to quite a bit of information from children, no less. Granted, the Internet of Things already pioneered this issue, but will parents feel comfortable with a doll that’s connected to the internet and able to absorb their children’s responses?

One could argue that smartphones are not too far off from this at all, and they pose a greater risk to children’s online safety. But perhaps the scariest issue of all is how deep will the Internet of Things phenomenon go, if children’s toys are becoming the focus of attention?

There’s definitely a fine line between innovative and advantageous on the one hand and creepy and privacy-evading on the other, But for one, the technology does deserve a round of applause.

The Hello Barbie doll itself will retail for US$75, and it should release in the northern autumn, later this year.

Feature image: Tracheotomy Bob via Flickr

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