Ethical issues on the horizon for digital assistants focused at children?

robots-too-humanThis week, I was part of an innovation panel at a large Dallas based IT manufacturer and during the discussion a new product for children was mentioned. Cognitoys is the company that makes a huggable dinosaur-like toy that is connected to IBM’s Watson APIs. I can’t help thinking about Barney whenever I see it.

I call these digital assistants, since they can understand and interact using natural language. Popular digital assistants for adults currently include Apple’s Siri, Google Now and soon Microsoft’s Cortana. This particular implementation is:

  • Speech enabled
  • Internet connected
  • Personalized
  • Educational

There was all the concern about ‘smart’ Barbie earlier this year. Barbie was just a warning shot to the possibilities, since the Barbie implementation wasn’t backed up by a supercomputer. I haven’t heard any concern yet about this toy.

The possibilities makes me wonder about the whole issue of “digital immigrants” vs. “digital natives” vs. these kids who will grow up interacting with and possibly being trained by digital nannies.

What level of configuration (or self-configuration) will be possible through the parent panel? Will parents enable the ‘toy’ to suggest that it is time for bed, take a bath, be more polite, learn a language, understand algebra or religion?? One parents grey area could will likely be another’s line in the sand.

There will be some ethical issues for the patents, the company providing the services… that will likely be worked out in the marketplace during this holiday season.

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