In the book, Zillion Dollar Thinking, the “Forward and Fast Forward” chapter sites the American International Toy Fair of 2004 (over ten years ago). The comparison was how far we have advanced from the Magic Eight Ball of the 1950’s.”

The alarm was how artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic and psychographic profiling was quietly being embedded in savvy tech toys to influence the thinking and decisioning of our children.


What has changed?

Considering the newest line of toys, gadgets and their capabilities, the progression has gotten scary fast, and our kids are at risk.

( From the reporter) “At the (2015) fair I saw toys that connect directly to the Internet, interact with kids in real time, record what they say, and adapt to their interests. The potential here is fantastic: Imagine toys that teach math fundamentals, improve your kids’ spelling, or prepare them for tests while they think they’re playing.

Alarm…there’s also potential for abuse. Toymakers could use these things to conduct market research, advertise new products directly to kids, or build profiles of their interests from an early age (all under the category of toys).”

Commitment and Solution

“Investigate carefully…not casually.”

It took several years to advance from the Eight Ball to the next generation of products (toys). Now, it is compounding at the speed of imagination. Since the 2004 Toy Show to the 2015 Show, here are just a few of the alarming advances:

(From the on site reporter) “I saw early versions of two connected toys at the show. One is from a fledgling startup; the other is from Mattel. Both are building toys that connect to the cloud to pull down information based on stuff your kids say.

First, there’s Elemental Path’s CogniToys Green Dinosaur, currently in Kickstarter mode. Kids ages 4 to 7 talk to it by pressing a button on its belly. They ask it questions; the toy connects to the Net via your Wi-Fi network, finds answers, and responds in a gravelly voice. It also asks your kids questions and keeps track of their answers.

In many ways the $100 CogniToy is similar to artificial intelligence-based lookup services like Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon Echo. It uses natural-language processing to understand what someone is asking, searches online databases for an answer, then recites the answer using text-to-speech software.

There are a few things that make the CogniToy different. One is that it uses IBM’s Watson technology to search databases and deliver answers. It’s the same cognitive computing system that defeated the best Jeopardy! players on the planet a few years ago. Another is that, unlike concierge services like Siri, this toy actively seeks information about the user, mostly in the form of simple math and language quizzes. And it is designed to evolve over time; once your child masters one set of skills, the questions get harder.

Then there’s the much blonder Hello Barbie. This doll is similar in a lot of ways to the dinosaur, though the technology is somewhat less sophisticated on the back end (and her hair is more fabulous). Mattel was demonstrating a prototype of the $75 doll in its booth at the fair; the actual product is slated to appear next fall.

Like the Dino, Barbie connects via Wi-Fi and uses speech recognition technology to figure out what your kids are saying. If you tell her your name or your favorite food, she will remember it later. But Barbie isn’t searching the Internet for answers or generating responses on the fly; she’s merely pulling from a database of some 10,000 canned responses, written by a team at Mattel, which will be continually updated over time.

Mattel also plans to offer a parental portal where you can listen to recordings of your kid’s conversations with the doll, delete them, or share them with others. The technology is built by ToyTalk, maker of the popular Winston Show and SpeakaZoo apps, which employ the same audio-recording features and offer a similar portal.

The Action here should be obvious.

These are not simple toys even though they are categorized as such. These (and there are thousands) products need constant surveillance by a parent, guardian or caretaker.

Action is essential…for our kids sake.

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