Here’s some interesting stories served up via the Internet for the week of September 25th.
The New York Times Magazine ran a compelling (and somewhat creepy) feature story on Mattel’s efforts to develop an interactive, WiFi-connected Barbie doll that can converse with children.
The article describes the effort as a primitive form of artificial intelligence, as Barbie can only respond to queries from a set of prerecorded responses:
…whatever someone said to Barbie would be recorded and transmitted via Wi-Fi to the computer servers of ToyTalk. Speech-recognition software would then convert the audio signal into a text file, which would be analyzed. The correct response would be chosen from thousands of lines scripted by ToyTalk and Mattel writers and pushed to Hello Barbie for playback — all in less than a second.”
I’m not worried that Barbie is going to achieve sentience and the get access to nuclear launch codes, but I do have concerns about how this kind of toy will affect children’s development. The article quotes University of Washington psychology professor Peter Kahn, who notes:
It is just a trivial toy. But the way the world is going, these are not just going to become small, isolated technologies in a child’s life. They are becoming a pervasive form of interaction.’’
The article also doesn’t deal with the privacy implications, or what Mattel or its partner, ToyTalk, will do with children’s conversations with the toy.
Toddlers And Tablets
Sticking with kids and tech, there’s an excellent essay at Ars Technica that drills into the question of the drawbacks and possible benefits of smartphones, tablets, and apps on young children.
The American Pediatric Association recommends that children have no exposure to screens before age two, but anyone who’s been to a restaurant or on a plane knows that pacification power of a smartphone or an iPad on a cranky child of almost any age.
Essentially, we’re conducting live experiments on our kids in regards to language development, their ability to self-regulate, interpersonal relations, and more. Unfortunately, there’s little good research to measure these impacts.
Resisting Government & Corporate Surveillance
Programmer and blogger Maciej Cegłowski shares an incredible presentation that links government and corporate surveillance, explains the arms race of Internet advertising, and outlines both technical and legal/regulatory fixes to curb the abuses of rampant data collection.
If you’re concerned about privacy and wondering what to do, this is an excellent talk and well worth your time to read the transcript or watch the video.
GCHQ: Likes Radiohead, Doesn’t Get Concept Of Karma
Also on the surveillance front, The Register reports on the latest document release from The Intercept about a British government program called KARMA POLICE, the goal of which is to capture the browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”
The program was run by the GCHQ, Britian’s signals intelligence agency. I’m guessing the person who named the program is a Radiohead fan, but doesn’t seem to understands the notion of karma.
If you need a palate cleanser after the above stories, check out the YouTube series “You Suck At Cooking.” It combines cooking instructions with clever editing and a slacker/sardonic/absurdist sense of humor.