Worrying New Toy that Actually Communicates with Children

Last November, toy manufacturer Mattel launched its latest innovation: Hello Barbie. Although we’re familiar with toys that prattle off a few pre-recorded phrases with the push of a button or the pull of a string, Hello Barbie is the first of its kind, using Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology to simulate lifelike communication with children. It listens to what your child says and draws on a vast database to ask questions and hold an actual conversation with your child.

Who’s listening to your child?

For many parents, Hello Barbie is hardly their Christmas wish, with the toy raising many concerns in academic, scientific and parenting circles. Firstly, there are the ethical and privacy issues of Hello Barbie’s Wi-Fi-enabled recording device that allows the doll to ‘listen’ to what children are saying and remember their likes and dislikes. This has led many to wonder who might have access to what children are saying and how recordings are saved.

Too much technology for developing minds

Then there is the unsettling matter of how Hello Barbie might influence children’s social development. For example, experts have flagged the risk of the doll’s ‘pretend empathy’ affecting children’s understanding of empathy and the development of their interpersonal skills.

Child psychologists and academics have further noted that by having its own A.I. character, Hello Barbie hinders the development of creativity: children won’t need to use their imaginations to animate Hello Barbie, because she’s already animated. Similarly, children won’t enjoy the same imaginative fluidity that comes when using traditional pretend play toys, because Hello Barbie has a fixed personality and scripted dialogue.

Time to focus on quality play

With educational toys playing such an essential role in children’s early development, it’s important for parents to stop and consider how these types of technology-rich toys might actually impede learning. To find out more about the best toys for stimulating quality playtime, visit The Little Woodpecker, your online destination for eco-friendly toys.