Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Barbie Learns How to Talk. (It only took her 50 years.)

In a recent demonstration of its Internet-connected doll, Hello Barbie, a Mattel spokesperson greeted the souped-up version of the iconic doll by saying, “Welcome to New York, Barbie.”

Thanks to voice-recognition technology, Barbie was able to analyze that remark and give a relevant, conversational response: “I love New York! Don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion or the sights?”

The company promises that the software will enable the doll “to listen and learn each girl’s preferences and then adapt to those accordingly.”

The interactive doll is slated to hit shelves in the fall, and Mattel is likely hoping it will help revive sinking sales of its flagship brand.

But a children’s privacy advocacy group is calling for the company to cease production of the toy, saying Hello Barbie might more accurately be called "eavesdropping" Barbie. Because the doll works by recording children’s speech with an embedded microphone and then sending that data over the Web, these advocates call the technology “creepy” and say it could leave children vulnerable to stealth advertising tactics. On Wednesday, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a petition urging Mattel to keep the doll from hitting store shelves. more

"Well, gag me with a spoon!"