Hello Barbie was introduced by Mattel in 2015 in response to dropping revenue from Barbie. While Barbie was still popular, she was not the star she once was with revenues dropping from over 1.3 billion USD in 2011 to less than One billion USD in 2013. This was due to a backlash caused by the negative body image Barbie’s figure was causing among young girls.
The Barbie doll had become a centerpiece for kids since its debut in 1959 as among the most popular dolls of all time. Mattel, Barbie’s billion-dollar leading company, was actualizing some alterations. Several toymakers have launched model offerings of distinct ethnic groups, body types, etc., to remain widely popular. Mattel has headed in a peculiar direction.
In the early 2010s, when Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa were launched, the surge of speech technology was taking off. The Hello Barbie FAQ from Mattel notes how customers’ most common suggestion is that they “want to have a conversation with Barbie.” Mattel worked with San Francisco business ToyTalk to introduce the Barbie doll to life to fulfill this demand and focus on the increasing interactional tech sector.
Introducing Hello Barbie
Hello Barbie would be the first AI-powered doll to engage with children using voice recognition with constructive communication. The doll is equipped with nearly 8,000 conversation lines and 20 immersive games and is valued at a premium over all other dolls (upwards of $80). Designed with a mic, a speaker, and two LEDs, the voice recognition system is triggered by just a push-and-hold button positioned on the Barbie belt. When the doll’s voice recognition is working, the led bulbs light up, and she is actively listening to what the child has to say.
After attaining a Hello Barbie, parents can connect the model to a WiFi router and build a profile, which they will then use to view the communications between children and dolls.
By hitting the button of her belt, kids can build rapport with Hello Barbie. The trigger must be disengaged to form Barbie’s answer. The stored discourse is then sent to the command center through a cloud environment. Natural language processing is used by ToyTalk’s voice recognition technology to determine potential replies and choose the right one to send back to the model.
How the AI functions within Hello Barbie
Hello, Barbie is the most sophisticated toy doll to date in the current A.I. generation. Toys whose creators share the desire: to convince kids how their dolls live or, at least, would be more than anthropomorphic.
To begin the AI, there’s a “listen” key on Barbie that the child will have to push to start recording whatever they speak into the microphone to get an answer. The child’s words are stored when prompted and submitted for review to ToyTalk’s cloud-based services. The discussions are part of an extensive memory database that Mattel and ToyTalk claim could be used in the future to further advance Artificial Intelligence science.
Features to power the AI
Hello, Barbie’s prototype has blonde, golden locks split to the right and flowing to her left shoulder. She appeared like a typical Barbie. However, Aslan Appleman, a lead design engineer, clarified that both of her thighs had been thickened to fit a rechargeable power bank in each. Also, a mini USB charging port can be located at her lower back.
If the user pressed and held her belt buckle in place, a microphone, hidden within Barbie’s necklace, can be triggered. Whatever anyone said afterward to Barbie will be registered and
forwarded to ToyTalk’s data centers via Wi-Fi each time. The audio signal would then be translated into a text document by speech recognition software that would be interpreted. The right answer will be picked under a second from thousands of lines written by writers from ToyTalk and Mattel and sent back to Hello Barbie to speak back to the child.
The Text Database Creation
In May 2014, Sarah Wulfeck, Nick Pelczar, and Dan Clegg, three ToyTalk staff, filed into a meeting room in the San Francisco headquarters. Wulfeck learned theatrical composition and did voice-over jobs in Hollywood; Pelczar and Clegg were Shakespearean performers who frequently appeared on stage. However, for Hello Barbie, their task was to compose the material that would replace Barbie’s brain. They built her personality into an ideal friend from scratch and needed to collaborate to create the perfect guiding partner for young children who aspired to Barbie.
The crew had completed about 3,000 lines of dialogue a few months into their creative process. They had compiled mainly isolated data templates on fashion, jobs, animals, and more. They still had over 5,000 additional lines to compose. Wulfeck plugged a machine in and launched a system known as PullString. The technology created by the engineers of ToyTalk allowed non-programmers to plan discussions that children could have with a robot-like Barbie.
Recognition of expression and answer in AI-backed toys
To demonstrate a simple example, Wulfeck entered a command of “Hey, how’re you doing?”. The next step was for the writers to list hundreds of terms that should be listened to in the child’s response by the speech-recognition software. This included phrases like “good,” “perfect,” “brilliant,” or ” not bad.” The system extracted keywords.
In this scenario,” right” or any of its optimistic synonyms would trigger Barbie to answer,” Nice!” “Bad ” or other adverse terms will tell Barbie to say, ” I’m sorry to hear that.” The actors voiced each emotion to create personality and make the toy Barbie stand out from the other speech recognition services like Siri or Cortana’s robotic voice.
Each of Barbie’s possible conversations was laid out like the branches of a tree in this way, with queries leading to massive lists of expected responses that would cause Barbie’s next reply, and so on. If the machine learning failed or the child’s reaction was not expected, the writers often turned to a “fallback” such as “Really? No way!” These terms are used in uncertain situations, such as not comprehending what your friend says at a noisy party.
The Drawbacks to Barbie and Hello Barbie
She has remained at the uncomfortable core of concerns about the adolescents since Barbie presented herself to the globe. Soon after release, she became both a cultural flashpoint, targeted by the pioneering feminist Betty Friedan and represented by Andy Warhol and one of the best-selling items of all history, with more than a billion dolls ordered.
Her stick-like legs, small waist, and large breasts set Barbie from the simplistic dolls that had conquered the market until that moment; a mother protested to Mattel in the 1950s, before Barbie was launched, that the doll had “much of a figure.” Her presence remained elusive. Moreover, protesters at the 1972 Toy Fair protested that according to an account in The New York Times, Barbie and other dolls allowed girls to “see themselves solely as mannequins, sex objects or housekeepers.” They added that this would cause little girls to sexualize themselves for male validation and create body dysmorphia in their children when they grew up because they would not reach “Barbie’s figure.”
According to May Ling Halim, an associate gender identity psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach, when students attend preschool, they begin to devotedly gather knowledge about gender stereotypes, what separates girls from boys, and how each gender is expected to act. Far from being the only effects on this phase are Barbie and other dolls, but they’re a significant example of gender knowledge. In the Journal “Developmental Psychology,” a 2006 study bluntly concluded that “girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body shape.” Hence, giving a voice to Barbie only enhances her future effects. She impacts how little girls view themselves as girls in society.
Furthermore, there is a threat to privacy for her users. Matt Jakubowski found access to user data, Wi-Fi device addresses, internal MAC addresses, user IDs, and MP3 files. He explained that he could use this data to identify someone’s address and private details and listen to Barbie documents. Her servers were quickly replaceable, and Barbie could say whatever Matt wanted if he tried hard enough to hack their system. Regardless of Mattel’s efforts, Matt could easily access information and raised his concerns for the company not to store information seeing the risks attached to it.
Privacy advocates have been raising concerns about exploitative advertisers accessing this information and manipulating children’s preferences. These advertisers are keen to gather insights to sell to other companies and gain profits.
The ToyTalk developers worked with Mattel and developed the character of Hello Barbie. They aimed for Hello Barbie to be both enjoyable as a doll. They wanted it to lead kids via innovative activities and be amusing by telling jokes and being goofy. Julia Pistor, a Mattel vice president, explained, Mattel also required Barbie to include an empathic, validating perception targeted at young girls.
Artificial Intelligence is being introduced into our lives gradually. There can indeed be a lot of consequences if things aren’t monitored. However, if adequate care is taken, applications like Hello Barbie can prove to be extraordinary. Not only can they help children have fun, but they learn a lot of things too.