Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Barbie AI: "Has Anyone in Your Family Married a Clown, Barbie?"

For some strange reason, I was under an earlier impression that Barbie was available with a 3D printer. I sent this tidbit to my comedic friend who said she wanted one so she could print a new boyfriend. When I did a search for such an announcement today, though, nothing came up. Was this my own imagined conversation?

In contrast, I just read the Sunday NY Times article about the work on the forthcoming  artificial intelligence (AI) featured Barbie, which manufacturers hope to release to the market for this year’s holiday sales:

The sophisticated development follows the path of other intelligent response systems by capturing interactions with the product with humans, then storing and analyzing the responses into a database, along with potential responses to the questions or remarks.

If you’ve ever called a real-time help desk, you are also likely to have benefitted from this type of a knowledge database as the help-desk person looked up your question.

This same protocol can be used for smart tutors/assistants in learning applications.
And it makes sense for the goals of a customer helpdesk or learning support.

But back to talking with toys, their companionship, and the potential to shape behavior. Toys have been the training ground for generations, in addition to providing diversions.

And yes, many of us had imaginary dialogue with our toys, creating both sides of it, and unless an adult was in earshot, the conversations went on without record. And then there were the pull –the-string-talkers—ok for a limited while. Of the later toys, one of my favorites was a teddy bear that had a mic, and could repeat whatever you said to good old teddy. My son and daughter each had one—our son would laugh into one, and then face the one bear to the other so they could have one extended ha fest.

Though drawing from her database in a timely fashion, Barbie AI’s programmed responses are drawing on former conversations and ring of the invasion of privacy. To other degrees, a person has to ask whether it’s a good idea to have Barbie harvesting your child’s private thoughts, worries, or genius.

I think of a wunderkind I know, and think of her questions:

“Barbie, I think I want to marry a clown when I grow up. Followed by, “Has anyone in your family married a clown?”

"Barbie, my toy birds are singing to the dead. What songs are they singing?"

I am amused to think how Barbie might respond. And I weigh in by thinking this child’s thoughts are priceless, and, as yet, unincorporated.

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