Earlier this year, toymaker Mattel decided to join the AI bandwagon by announcing plans to release an “all-in-one voice-controlled smart baby monitor.” The smart assistant dubbed Aristotle would work sort of like the Amazon Echo except that it would be a much bigger presence in kids’ lives.
Aristotle would teach your baby their ABC’s. And when they got a little older, it would help them with their homework. It would learn about them over time so it could tailor its interactions along the way.
But in the face of mounting criticism over the product, Mattel wants to reverse course. They recently told the Washington Post they’re shelving Aristotle because device doesn’t “fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.”
As it turns out, some parents, child psychologists, and even politicians were a little uncomfortable letting such a smart baby monitor into the room with their kids. Critics voiced worry over data privacy as well as the unknown ways this thing could affect a child’s development.
Most concerning was the danger that some parents would use Aristotle as a substitute for real human connection. And no one was sure what exactly would happen to the child as it grew up developing a bond to a commercial product.
The uproar touches on an emerging if not well-researched area of concern as we all continue to expose young children to technology, especially to AI-powered tools that have the power to engage with kids socially.
One study by software company Latitude Research and Lego placed children with AI-powered robots in a classroom setting and found the children readily personified the robots with human likeness. The kids tended to project feelings onto the robot and they treated the robot as a friend, even while understanding its role as a helper. Another study suggests robots can be used to help kids with autism improve social interaction skills in ways humans can’t.
While research is still very sparse in this field, what we do know so far is that AI has great potential to complement a child’s growth and development if implemented correctly. Mattel may not have gotten the design right this time around. However, it won’t be long before we do see AI-powered devices and robots making their way into mainstream use around younger kids. With that, we’ll see the forging of a whole new kind of relationship between people and technology.