Barbie girls living in their Barbie world will soon find the iconic doll talking back to them, in the latest rather disturbing move for the toy business.
Barbie is a controversial enough product already – her stick thin appearance having been criticised for promoting an unhealthy body image for young girls – but the plan for the latest model of Mattel’s doll is to have her talking back and holding a conversation with her owner.
Presumably she’ll avoid the phrase “Maths is hard…” which caused much consternation as one of the bits of speech the talking Barbie said back in the 90s.
This new Barbie – dubbed Hello Barbie – will be internet-connected, and will use a speech recognition system developed by ToyTalk to hold a two-way chat with girls (or indeed boys, of course).
According to the BBC, a spokeswoman for Mattel commented: “The number one request we hear from girls around the world is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie. Now, for the first time ever, Barbie can have a two-way conversation.”
This doll patter will be limited, mind you, but it will listen to what the child says, and refer back to that in context in the future. If the owner mentions she likes to ride her bike, for instance, Barbie will remember that fact and bring it up in future chats.
Hello Barbie will also tell stories and jokes (presumably not blonde jokes), and offer interactive games. Her battery will last an hour, and she’ll hook up to the net via a wireless connection.
The experience is hardly going to be like talking to a robot Barbie by any means, but still, there are obvious worries about what a hack to the system could achieve. And we’d also worry on the imagination front, too – time was that children would have to invent their own conversations for their dolls, which stimulates creativity more strongly than listening to a story being recited back.
Toys are all about imagination, and while technological advancements in the field are certainly impressive, they are slowing stripping that key element away.