Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Should We Be Concerned About Our High Tech Talking Barbie? Yes, Maybe We Should

Anyone with an iPhone is familiar with Siri, the friendly, "intelligent assistant" who you can interact with for information, advice and help finding answers to nearly everything. Or at least, a lot of things.

Now, in this age of interactive devices, we have an interactive Barbie. Yes, she's for real.

I remember the interactive toys that were around when we were kids. You pull a little string in the back of the neck and Chatty Cathy would scratchily deliver one of their prescribed scripts. Check out this Mattel commercial for Chatty Cathy and her chatty family. I never realized (till I saw this commercial) that they had a hundred different things they could say, such as, "Te amo means I love you."

But these weren't the first talking dolls. Thomas Edison created a talking doll as far back as the 1890's.

I came to learn about the advances in talking doll technology via an article in the Shelly Palmer eNewsletter, Five Things You Should Know About the Talking Barbie. Essentially, Palmer warns us that Talking Barbie is more than a talking doll. It is a connected device, and you may want to keep that in mind. In other words, watch out for hackers, among other things.

As I thought about this new interactive technology I stared wondering what kind of world we're creating, where dolls can become surrogate friends and surrogate parents. Are there any psychological dangers here? I dunno.

This current Talking Barbie has 8000 things she can say. Here are just a few of her scripts:

"Yay! So how many stars between zero and five would you give your day so far? An okay one star? An awesome five stars?"

"I have to say, my good thing is talking with you! Now my day's gotten a million times better!"

"One of the best things about friendship is that everyone has different interests... it's pretty awesome when a friend shares a new hobby ... something you didn't even know you liked!"

"Let's give it a go."

"Okey doke. Maybe another time..."

"Remind me again, what's your favorite color?"

"Red's a rad color! What do you like about it?"

"So if you were a popstar, what's a song that you'd like to sing?"


If it sounds a bit like Disney World, that shouldn't surprise you. That's what we want, right? Perfect weather, sunshine and smiles? Maybe a little Soma to smooth out our days? I suspect, however, that it won't be long before someone begins to capitalize on a Crabby Barbie.

"Ken and I just had a fight. So just leave me alone."

"Bug off. And don't let the door hit you on the way out!"

For the record, if interested, here's a comprehensive list of things Talking Barbie can say. I haven't read them all, but I'm guessing there aren't any that would suggest she'd like to play doctor.

Just passing along the latest news. What do you think?

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