ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BABYSITTER ARISTOTLE PULLED BY MATTEL, ECHOES OF SKYNET FUTURE
Popular toymaker Mattel has been moved to cancel its project to create a AI babysitter product as concerns become a wave of complaints the product risked psychological damage for young children. The device, called Aristotle, was announced this past January. Physically the device was a tall cylinder, similar to Amazon’s Echo smart speaker and following a popular tech design trend started by Apple’s Mac Pro. Aristotle would have functioned in many ways as a smart speaker, enabling consumers to make online purchases or run searches on the internet using their voices.
ARISTOTLE WOULD HAVE PLAYED ROLE OF CAREGIVER, CONCERNS OF HAL 5000 RAISE OUTCRY
But Aristotle was designed to do much more than just a smart speaker. It also included a Bluetooth camera to allow the monitoring of young children, but most notably enabling an AI to interact them directly, without a caregiver’s supervision or direction. It was billed as “helping [to] sooth a crying baby … reinforce good manners in kids, and even help kids learn a foreign language.” But the design came under immediate condemnation that quickly resulted in a campaign by the US nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood calling for Mattel to cancel the release of Aristotle itself. The campaign’s position was “attempts to replace the care, judgment and companionship of loving family members with faux nurturing and conversation from a robot designed to sell products and build brand loyalty.”
PSYCHOLOGICT CONCERNED TECHNOLOGY BECOMES PRIMARY CAREGIVER, A DANGER TO CHILDREN AND DEVELOPMENT
“Young children should not be guinea pigs for AI experiments,” the campaign letter concluded.
One child psychologist, speaking to the Washington Post, said her main concern “is the idea that a piece of technology becomes the most responsive household member to a crying child, a child who wants to learn, or a child’s play ideas.”
BIPARTISAN CONCERN FROM SENATORS OVER SERIOUS PRIVACY CONCERNS FOR FAMILIES
The campaign also attracted the attention of two US politicians, Democratic senator Edward Markey and Republican representative Joe Barton. They sent Mattel a letter at the end of September expressing “serious privacy concerns” about the devices ability to create an “in-depth profile of children and their family”.
“It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” the pair’s letter continued, before asking a series of pointed questions about the abilities of the device, including: whether it would use facial recognition technology; whether responses from children would be recorded and saved; whether the device would be recording even if children weren’t directly engaging with it; whether Mattel would sell information to third parties; and whether it would delete personally identifiable information about customers.
“We welcome the innovative and responsible use of artificial intelligence and speech recognition,” the letter says, “but we believe consumers should know how this product will work, and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data.”
MATTEL CANCELS ARISTOTLE RELEASE, NOT READY TO BECOME SKYNET
In response Mattel said its new chief technical officer Sven Gerjets “conducted an extensive review of the Aristotle product and decided that it did not fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.” Gerjets joined the company in July, six months after the Aristotle was announced.
“The decision was then made not to bring Aristotle to the marketplace as part of an ongoing effort to deliver the best possible connected product experience to the consumer,” the company said.
It’s not the first time Mattel’s got in cyber-trouble. A wifi-enabled Barbie released in 2015 was discovered to be easy to hack into, allowing an attacker access to the doll’s system information, account information, stored audio files and direct access to the microphone.