Toymaker Mattel has built a digital home assistant designed to look after young children and babies. According to reports from Fast Company and Bloomberg, the product, named Aristotle, is a $300 Wi-Fi Bluetooth speaker that looks and functions just like Amazon’s Echo and is scheduled to hit stores this June.
There are two AI “personalities” inside Aristotle. The first is an eponymous female assistant who claims to be descended from the Greek philosopher himself, and will read bedtime stories to children, play games like “guess the animal sound,” and answer their questions. The second personality is Amazon’s Alexa, which adults can use to operate the device as well as shop for baby products like diapers and formula.
The speaker, which lights up in various colors, comes bundled with an internet-connected camera so it can function as a baby monitor, and will use object recognition to interact with its environment — including other Mattel toys. “Imagine what happens with Hot Wheels and Thomas the Train when you have this connected hub," Robb Fujioka, chief products officer at Mattel told Fast Company. "Do you hear sound effects? Can you have greater interactions?"
The key selling point is that Aristotle should be able to understand the speech of even very young children — something that the Alexas and Google Homes of this world struggle with. Mattel says children will need to read the assistant a test paragraph in order for it to learn to recognize their voice, but it remains to be seen if this adaptation will be enough to stop frustrating interactions between children and robots.
Another challenge will be reassuring users about privacy. Last year, Mattel introduced a similarly hi-tech product aimed at children: the Wi-Fi-enabled Hello Barbie doll, which featured an embedded microphone for interacting with children. Security researchers soon found that the doll could be easily hacked, giving intruders access to stored audio files and a live feed from the microphone. But even if Aristotle has greater safeguards against hacker (Mattel says the gadget’s data will be handled in compliance with government safeguards), there’s the possibility that the toymaker or third-party partners could use the information to profile young users.
These issues aside, digital assistants could prove to be capable and even beloved minders for young children. After all, computers are infinitely patient and have deep stores of knowledge to answer endless questions. Many parents already keep their offspring entertained at least some of the time with a tablet or smartphone — so why not give kids something that can talk back?