A Toy That Talks Back

Movies like Toy Story have made a fortune by creating a story based on the animation of inanimate objects. And while she’s not quite a real-life Woody or Buzz Lightyear, Barbie – the iconic doll manufactured by Mattel since 1959 – has come a long way with the announcement of the new Hello Barbie.

While STEM-focused Barbie dolls have stirred up mixed reactions from women in engineering, Barbie’s venture into artificial intelligence (AI) has been welcomed with a bit more warmth. Hello Barbie, which will retail at $75 when it hit stores in November, is making waves for tapping into Siri-like voice recognition software to have actual back-and-forth conversations with children.

Adjusting to a digital Barbie is easy — she has a companion app and relies on a wireless connection to function, with glowing accessories and a simple switch to indicate when she’s on and connected, or switched off.

Barbie is able to create a variety of different conversational scenarios that pull from her thousands of lines dialogue in her cloud-based repository. Over time, Barbie’s conversations will be refined based on a child’s previous responses, with new lines being added all the time.

In a statement to Mashable, Mattel was clear that privacy shouldn’t be a concern for parents, as Hello Barbie is not an “always on” toy. The doll’s clear-cut on/off switches are just one element of control. Mattel has also pointed out that Barbie will never ask children personal information — not even for their name. Parental controls also allow parents to manually select conversations that they deem to be off-limits.

Only time will tell if Hello Barbie becomes a permanent fixture in the children’s toy transition — a shift from imaginative playing with dolls and action figures to cloud-connected toys that place the focus on learning while playing.

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