After receiving widespread criticism for their Teen Talk Barbie that lamented, “Math class is tough,” Mattel is stepping up their game by releasing Hello Barbie, full name Barbara Millicent Roberts, the first Barbie with artificial intelligence. Their goal is to create a toy that seems more lifelike because of its ability to carry on a conversation with kids. Whereas Teen Talk Barbie, and other previous talking Barbies, simply selected a phrase at random from a small database of possible phrases, Hello Barbie knows 8,000 lines of dialogue. Even more impressive, she selects certain phrases based on what kids are saying to her or asking her.
How it works
The secret is in Barbie’s belt buckle which actually doubles as a button that can activate speech recognition software. When a child holds down the belt buckle button and speaks to Barbie, the doll records the audio and transmits it to a ToyTalk server (ToyTalk is a third party service not owned by Mattel that manages the databases of phrases for various toys). The ToyTalk server runs something called a decision engine to select an appropriate response to what the child said. Oren Jacob, the CEO of ToyTalk describes ToyTalk’s decision engine as a kind of map with forks in the road. It uses natural language processing to analyze what the child is saying or asking and arrives at an optimal response which is transmitted back to the Barbie Doll. This entire process takes only seconds.
It keeps getting better
One of the best things about Hello Barbie is that it has the ability to keep on improving when it comes to speech recognition and response selection. Because Hello Barbie’s 8,000 lines of dialogue are stored on ToyTalk’s servers and not on a chip within the doll itself, a team of ToyTalk employees have access to that database of dialogue and can continually improve it. As more children talk to Hello Barbie, ToyTalk can study patterns, tweak their decision engine to be more accurate, and add or remove lines of dialogue as needed.
Because the audio recordings are stored on ToyTalk servers, the child’s parents can go online and listen to or delete audio recordings. They also have the option to share recordings of their child interacting with Barbie.
According to Mattel, Hello Barbie will hit the shelves in November just in time for the holidays.
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