Every doll-obsessed adolescent will readily confess how Barbie was once basically a BFF. Not only is she the perfect portable sidekick for sharing in all of your adventures, but she also always comes in a killer outfit to match. One drawback to having a piece of person-shaped plastic as your constant companion, however, is that conversations tend to be a little one-sided. Well, until now, that is. For those kids whose imaginary dialogues always seem to fall flat, Mattel has launched a whole new breed of Barbie that, thanks to its Wi-Fi capabilities, can actually communicate with its owner.
The new doll, called Hello Barbie, appears to be equal parts Siri in plasticised form and something out of a dystopian A.I. future. The $75 toy will hit shelves in November, coming in three skin tones, each embedded with speech recognition technology that allows Hello Barbie to hold up her end of the conversation—at least until her hour of battery life has been used up. All you have to do is download the Hello Barbie app, connect the doll to Wi-Fi, indicated via a light in her neck, and then hold down her belt buckle and start chatting away, similar to how a walkie-talkie works.
While she can’t hold super advanced discussions, Barbie is pre-programed with a range of generic questions and responses, such as “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or “What’s your favorite food?” that should prompt kids to start gabbing away in no time flat. She also stores a database of facts about her owner based off of previous conversations they’ve had so she can adapt and recall talking points. Mattel hopes that the doll will help renew interest in the Barbie franchise and make her accessible for a new digitally-fluent generation after facing years of declining sales.
One major concern, however, when it comes to Hello Barbie, is security. Parents are troubled both by what type of personal information their children might voluntarily offer up to the doll, the doll recording at random without the family’s permission, and the safety of all of that information once it’s out there in cyberspace. But ToyTalk, the company that created the doll’s software, says there's nothing to fear when it comes to Hello Barbie. The child’s audio is being recorded, but only so that the doll can perfect its speech recognition, recall pertinent details about its owner, and archive those conversations so that parents can later access them and review them online, giving them full transparency and control over what information the Barbie stores about their child. They can even permanently delete their accounts if they eventually decide the doll’s not for them or want to pass it along to another family. Whether the doll poses a true safety risks to either parent or child has yet to be seen, but one thing’s for sure—Hello Barbie has officially ushered this old-school doll into the technologically savvy 21st Century.
Hello Barbie hits stores in November.