September 20, 2015 in Daily Bulletin
Barbie will soon have a type of proto-consciousness James Vlahos wrote:
- Adults have come to expect smartphone voice assistants like Cortana and Siri to engage in short, lifelike conversations.
- It’s really more a feature suited for children, and now the company behind Barbie is trying to give the (in?)famous doll similar capabilities.
- Just like Cortana, Barbie will also remember conversation items. If she finds out that a child has a sibling Barbie will frequently ask about them. If she finds that a grandparent has passed, Barbie will avoid the subject.
- Barbie is also being programmed as a learning tool. In one demonstration Barbie told a child that she had had a fight with a friend. The child told Barbie to apologize. Barbie approved.
- There are multiple concerns. Since this is a Barbie the first is the influence the toy will have on self-image. If the Barbie is asked if a child is pretty Barbie will respond yes – but also note that they’re “smart, talented, and funny”.
- Kids are pretty good at imbuing inanimate objects with consciousness and personality. The fear is that such a Barbie could act as a brake on a child’s imagination because the child no longer has to create a personality for the doll.
- And then there is the fear that Barbie will become such a good friend, children will have less of a need to make real friends.
- Moreover it’s a one sided relationship, with the toy fulfilling all of the child’s needs, no matter how badly the child acts. This ‘domination model’ could serve children poorly when they try to make real friendships.
- But Mattel is aware of these problems and is programming around them with the help of experts. And anyway such concerns are usually overblown. People used to be worried about smartphones and tablets but kids adjusted to them without becoming social outcasts.
Read more about the Barbie, what happened the last time they tried to get her to speak, her unlikely position as a proto-feminist, where the idea came from, and much more over here.
Source: The New York Times