Imagine a device to which you can issue vocal commands and have it remotely reply by turning on the TV or playing your favorite song. Voice technology isn’t anything newsworthy, but the ways it’s applied has caught the attention of many. Amazon is already successfully selling a product like this called Echo. On the other side, Google has patented Nexus Ruxpin, which includes all the gizmos and gadgets of voice-activated technology inside a cuddly bunny or teddy bear. The hope is to have children interact with it as well, cueing it with a “trigger” word and watching it turn toward them to make eye contact. Then you or your child can give the device a command in which it will respond over Wi-Fi to your connected devices (cell phones, TV, computers, tablets, stereos, thermostats, lights and more). Is this convenient or is this creepy?
In addition to Echo live on the market (check out Ubooly while you’re at it), Mattel wants to push out a new version of Barbie called Hello, Barbie. It has the same voice-activated technology with the addition of memory space via Wi-Fi. The idea is to have your child carry on a conversation with the doll, have the doll “remember” certain responses, like the dog’s name, and bring up these details later. It’s not difficult to understand how this might have caused some backlash from parents. Hello, Barbie, Echo and the Nexus Ruxpin are all results of the industry trying to keep up with a growing curiosity of technology in children. The doll was slated to hit shelves this fall, but the follow up seems to have slipped.
The main concern is privacy and protecting children against the dangers of the Internet while trying to fight the constant battle of technology versus nature. Technology is always progressing, dishing out new toys and products to calm the hype of consumerism. At the same time, parents strive to get their kids outside, socialize with friends and other people, use their imaginations and understand how to safely use technology.
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Obviously, there will be positive reviews, raving about the advancements of technology. When kids are involved, things get a little gray. These types of issues create plenty of opinions, so check out what people are saying about this new realm of highly interactive products:
Amazon Echo: $179
From CNET: “While they don’t think it’s the greatest-sounding speaker in the world … they really like the convenience of having Alexa respond to their voice commands and do things like play music, read Audible books to them, give them a weather forecast and set alarms for cooking and waking up.” See more here.
From PCMag: “And yet, there’s something about the Echo that feels more approachable than a cell phone. For instance, I never asked Siri to convert kitchen measurements for me, but I asked Alexa. And I never told Google Now to add items to my shopping list, but I asked Alexa. It’s not that Alexa is smarter than Siri or Google Now; in fact, both of those more mature voice assistants actually offer a wider range of useful options and features. But perhaps subconsciously, the idea that the Amazon Echo is meant to live in your home makes Alexa feel less like a disembodied application and more like a genuine home assistant.” Read more here.
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Nexus Ruxpin: Patented, not on the market
From Big Brother Watch, Campaign Group via BBC: “The privacy concerns are clear when devices have the capacity to record conversations and log activity. When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line. Children should be able to play in private and shouldn’t have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy. It is simply unnecessary.” See more here.
From Engadget: “On the other hand, Google could de-creep such a device by limiting its servers’ access to voice commands, which it records through ‘OK Google’ anyway.” Read the blurb here.
Hello, Barbie: To debut this fall, $74.99
From GeekDad: “The thing is, kids talk to their toys all the time. My four-year-old had a deep, philosophical discussion with a Flash action figure the other day. Kids have lived eons without a toy that can remember their birthday, their favorite food, or what they want to be when they grow up. […] We’ve already sacrificed our privacy [as adults], welcoming our new robotic overlords. The question is, should we be acclimating our children to the idea of computers watching and listening?” Get more here.
From ToyTalk (toy maker) via Fast Company: “The most requested thing that kids have wanted to do with Barbie, and Mattel’s done unbelievable amounts of research over the course of decades, is to talk to Barbie. […] We’ll take our honest best guess at [conversation scripts] and then see what comes back, and then that will change and evolve over time as those conversations happen between individual children and Barbie dolls.”
From Commercial-Free Childhood Campaign via Bloomberg: “Kids using Hello Barbie aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial.” See more from the CFCC here.
We want to know what you think! Is there a “creepy” line with vocal technology? If so, is it for parents to decide or consumers as a whole? Sound off!