Barbie? Yes, but this Barbie isn’t just your ordinary (and iconic) plastic doll. Hello Barbie is a creature from the Internet of Things, a tech gadget/connected device launched by Mattel in November 2015.
Basically, Hello Barbie is an Internet-connected toy that relies on consumer-grade artificial intelligence and voice recognition software to listen and talk back (sort of like Siri, if she were a Barbie). Her responses come from a pool of 8,000 of prerecorded statements. In order to work, she needs you to download an app, connect to your Wi-Fi, get access to the public Internet, and – of course – needs connection to the servers of ToyTalk, Mattel’s San Francisco-based partner, who helped to bring this high-tech doll to (artificial) life. When the user (e.g. your kid) talks to the toy, their recorded audio gets sent to ToyTalk via Wi-Fi and translated into text, which artificial intelligence software can then respond to, choosing from thousands of ready-to go responses. The system relies on keywords in order to provide a meaningful reply.
These keywords are hugely important for another reason. They are stored in a cloud database, so Barbie can fine-tune her responses later based on info she received and “remembers.” Also, all this keyword analysis goes into “trend bucket” so Mattel and ToyTalk can further refine their prerecorded responses. Since this IoT-enabled toy, dubbed “Surveillance Barbie” by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), is connected to your Wi-Fi, she has raised concerns from child advocacy groups and the cyber advocate community for being an easy target for security breaches. After all, she is a completely connected device that hackers might employ to get your credit card or social security numbers.
ToyTalk has taken public concerns seriously, declaring that it has created a “’bug bounty’, or an award for hackers to find any other security flaws, so it can fix them. It says in all of the cases surfaced by security researchers no children’s audio was accessed,” according to USA Today.
Will you invite Hello Barbie into your home, or do you think she should she stay in her pink Barbie Dream House? We just though you should know what’s out there: the good, the bad, the ugly and the incredible at the intersection of design and technology.