Hello Barbie is the latest version of the iconic doll soon to hit toyshop shelves. This model goes way beyond Scientist Barbie or Rock Star Barbie, because it can actually have a conversation with your child. Forget the robotic programmed one-liners of the dolls we played with as kids, this Barbie actually seems to listen to a child’s conversation and respond in a spontaneous and intimate way, just as if she was a friend.
What makes Barbie talk is an innovative in-built speech recognition platform that registers keywords as your child talks. These keywords are then seamlessly inserted into the doll’s replies. For instance, if your child mentions that she likes to dance, the doll will refer to dancing in a future chat. The more your child talks, the more keywords Barbie registers.
This functioning is similar to Siri, the voice operating systems found on Apple devices. You’re child won’t be able to set reminders or get directions to the closest McDonalds but Barbie will be able to tell jokes, stories and play games. She will be able to listen and learn. It is hoped that your child will become emotionally attached with this Barbie and it will become your child’s new digital BFF.
So, what’s the issue?
While there’s no doubt that kids will love to talk to their favourite doll, there’s a side to digital Barbie that is a worry. In addition to the keywords, the doll also comes with pre-programmed conversation that will be included in talk with your child. This opens up a huge can of worms in terms of potential issues. Imagine if the doll were pre-programmed with advertising for new Mattel toys or maybe new junk food products that an affiliated company are selling?
The prototype doll shown at the recent New York Toy Fair didn’t refer to any commercial events such as the Superbowl, however it did refer to Valentine’s Day because Barbie is sure that this is every girl’s favourite day of the year!
But what is pre-programmed will change! This is because Hello Barbie has Wi-Fi capability, which means that new conversations will constantly be uploaded into the cloud. What Barbie talks about with your child each day will shift according to what has been uploaded.
We know that children are already influenced by the media and advertising, however this doll potentially takes this to a whole new level because its been designed so that your child will develop an emotional relationship with it. Your child will trust her. And this gives a profitable edge to whatever products or events are programmed for the doll to talk about. The doll suggesting Valentine’s Day is the most important day of the year could be just as powerful to your five-year-old child as if a family member or a friend passionately made the same remark.
This toy could also potentially invade your child’s privacy. Kids using the doll press a button to record a message. The message is then analysed by a Mattel partner before an audio response is returned over the internet. As with all big data issues we don’t know who analyses the information or what the information might also be used for.
Barbie also asks lots of questions that would elicit a great deal of information about a child, their interests, and their family. This information could be of great value to advertisers and be used to market unfairly to children. Kids using Hello Barbie aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose interest in them is making profit.
Hello Barbie is new technology in kids’ toys and an exciting innovation. There’s no doubt children will have lots of fun with it. But as parents we need to be aware of the potential issues these new toys bring so that we can weigh up the pros and cons of such toys and what they might mean for our kids.
I originally published this post on Kidspot. To see original article go to New smart Barbie now talks back but is that safe?