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Mattel's New Baby Monitor Uses AI To Soothe Babies and Lawmakers Aren't Happy About It (washingtonpost.com) 131

Mattel has a new kid-focused smart hub called Aristotle, which can switch on a night light if it hears a baby crying to soothe the child (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The device is also designed to keep changing its activities, even to the point where it can help a preteen with homework, learning about the child along the way. Given the privacy concerns, lawmakers are worried that the always-on device could build an "in-depth profile of children and their family." Jezebel reports: The $299 Aristotle is similar in spirit to the Amazon Echo, only the scope of its features is much broader -- and scarier. Last week, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joe Barton sent a letter to Mattel CEO Margaret Giorgiadis about their issues with the tablet, which tracks things like kids' eating and sleeping habits when they're young, and adapts to answering their questions about long division and sex or whatever as they grow up. According to nabi, the Mattel brand that developed the device, the Aristotle is meant to "provide parents with a platform that simplifies parenting, while helping them nurture, teach, and protect their young ones." Not everyone is on board. But Markey and Barton aren't the only ones squicked by Aristotle's capabilities. Buzzfeed reports that privacy experts, parents and child psychologists are also concerned that the device "encourages babies to form bonds with inanimate objects and use information it collects for targeted advertising," so much so that a petition has been launched to prevent it from going to market.
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Mattel's New Baby Monitor Uses AI To Soothe Babies and Lawmakers Aren't Happy About It

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    WTF does Skuicked mean? Try using actual English to write your summaries.
    • "cause (someone) to feel intense disgust."
  • Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:05AM (#55314235)

    When it's targeted at kids, people freak out.
    When it's targeted at adults, people buy the damn things.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      How about "squicked" then?
    • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:19AM (#55314311) Journal

      Because adults are presumed to be experienced and rational decision makers. (not always true but a free society sorta requires some degree of this).

      If you say "ok google, how long should my penis be" and the response is "according to penisPumpsRUs women prefer a length of 11 inches or more" As an adult you'd question the source, and you'd probably question how reasonable that statement can be based on other experience.

      If your 8 year old asks that questions and gets that response...Well the outcome might not be what you'd want as a parent. The fact is we probably don't want a generation of people raised by search results. If the use of television as a baby sitter is any indication parents and teachers will grow complacent and leave kids to be monitored by these devices, and likely won't do much checking up on how those interactions go...

      I don't have a policy proposal here, or an opinion about what should or should not be done, but I do understand the concern.

      • "according to penisPumpsRUs women prefer a length of 11 inches or more" .

        All I know is that as an adult with 11 inches or more I get a lot more sex than when I was a 6 year old with only an 8 inch dingle-dangle.

      • Re:Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:29AM (#55314387)

        >I don't have a policy proposal here, or an opinion about what should or should not be done, but I do understand the concern.

        If you're not willing to put in 20 years of effort to properly raise a child, try out 'birth control' or stick to masturbation.

        Children are wonderful and all, but they're also a huge responsibility if you're a decent human. Deliberately having a child (or simply not worrying about pregnancy when birth control is more or less ubiquitous) and then abdicating your parenting responsibilities to technology is not the right choice.

        And yes, I'm a parent, and yes, I know EXACTLY how difficult a standard that is to meet, and no, I don't actually meet it 100% of the time.

        • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

          by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:48AM (#55314495) Journal

          I am not a parent yet, but my wife and I are currently trying. I totally agree with what you have to say. I was speaking more in the sense of as to if these things should be regulated, or restricted in some way.

          I do see technology having a place in helping raise at least very small children. We have done enough baby sitting for friends and family to know for example that Baby monitors are useful! Could you raise a kid without one sure, but being able to put the child down for a nap upstairs while you go on about your activity downstairs where you won't wake them is a good thing.

          I can see being able to power on a night light or mobile without mom or day entering the room might be positive thing too. Entering the room your self might be more stimulation than you want to provide when you hope to get the kid to go back to sleep. The question is where is the line of abdication responsibility to technology and using technology to be a better parent? That might not even be the same place in every family.

          • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:58AM (#55314533)

            >I am not a parent yet, but my wife and I are currently trying.

            Good luck, and may everything go smoothly. I was really relaxed about it until the first ultrasound was scheduled, at which point it became an exercise in hiding my anxieties from my wife until the kid actually came out. And then, despite having experience, freaking out like almost every new parent does. The second kid is almost always easier because you've chilled out a bit.

            >Baby monitors are useful!

            Yes, especially video ones. (With suitable encryption so you're not providing a video feed to the entire neighbourhood and thus potentially to thieves as well). Don't bother with the motion detector ones, though... they go off constantly and will stress you right out, and the chances of them helping you save a baby from SIDs are about zero percent.

            >I can see being able to power on a night light or mobile without mom or day entering the room might be positive thing too.

            I have my doubts, but I'd be happy to see a study done on it.

            > The question is where is the line of abdication responsibility to technology and using technology to be a better parent? That might not even be the same place in every family.

            Absolutely, especially in the case of a 'special needs' child. In normal cases, there's a line between 'getting some relief / taking a break' and neglect, and I think that's not something that is easily codified in legislation. However, there should already be EXISTING legislation protecting the privacy of minors, and if this device is uploading anything it should be outright banned and the product development team slapped across their individual faces.

          • by hord ( 5016115 )

            I was speaking more in the sense of as to if these things should be regulated, or restricted in some way.

            Don't buy it. You don't need someone else doing this for you and having a device like this in your home isn't a broad social concern. *You* have the power to regulate it by simply not participating in this activity.

          • I can see being able to power on a night light or mobile without mom or day entering the room might be positive thing too

            Fair enough, and I actually like the idea, I might build one for my child (when I have one).

            I don't however, think the AI part is a good idea, in fact I think it's horrible! With all the hacks happening all over the place and data leaking like a sieve I would not want my child's data being traded on some underground marketplace, thank you very much. How long do you think it will take

            • by HiThere ( 15173 )

              The thing is, it's probably designed to update itself over the net.

              So, the first version may well be secure...and minimally capable. One of the updates, though, will open the floodgates.

        • by houghi ( 78078 )

          This has been said since Adam and Eve or since Lucy [wikipedia.org], depending on what you believe.

          It is like driving a car. Everybody says they are a great driver and that others are the problem (Except in my case, I am actually a great driver. Really, I am.)

          So I am sure that there are plenty of people who will say you are doing it wrong and should have stuck to masturbation. I have no idea if they are wrong or you are wrong, but wars have been fought over less.

        • I don't know. If a parent is the type of person who thinks they should abdicate their role to a machine, they are probably right.
      • by AVryhof ( 142320 )

        I don't have a policy proposal here, or an opinion about what should or should not be done, but I do understand the concern.

        It should be regulated in the same way as HIPAA data, or maybe as much as PCI data (which is even more regulated).

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          You mean like, "You've got to use a government approved OS and you can't update it without government approval, but once a version is approved it stays approved, even when hacks are discovered."?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      My baby monitor was called "Socrates". It gave hemlock to babies that acted up too much. It was designed to be used on planes.

      For some reason folks had a problem with it.

  • Diamond age (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Young lady's illustraded primer

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Primer / Diamond Age

  • ... given that those who program this robotic surrogate parent will be the one's molding these children's minds, and therefore, will know a priori how the resultant adolescent and then adult will behave and preform.

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:29AM (#55314391) Homepage

    It should have been called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer [amazon.com].

  • Life Imitates Art (Score:5, Informative)

    by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:34AM (#55314413) Journal

    "I always do what Teddy says" is a short story by Harry Harrison that appeared in his collection Galactic Dreams. It was about the creation of an assassin by a subversive group who came in to a boy's home and performed moral surgery on his automated companion, a teddy bear. They removed the imperative, "thou shall not kill," from the embedded expert system (now known as an AI), and left the child to grow up before they assigned him the intended political target. There were two beautiful ideas in this short story, first, that a sufficiently complex toy could be created that would provide companionship and education to the child it was assigned to, and, second, that minor manipulation of that expert system could have deep, and difficult to otherwise discern, repercussions.

    I read it as a young boy, and a handful of decades later, I still remember the chilling, climactic sentence, "Teddy, I'm going to kill a man." Heck, I even remember exactly where I was when I was reading it.

    Life imitating art.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I still remember the chilling, climactic sentence, "Teddy, I'm going to kill a man." Heck, I even remember exactly where I was when I was reading it.

      Not the Texas book depository, by any chance?

  • by wardrich86 ( 4092007 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:35AM (#55314419)
    We have so many amazing abilities, but it's all getting shot to shit by terrible security and malicious advertising intentions.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are they Congressmen worried enough to give up their iPhones?

  • by Dripdry ( 1062282 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:41AM (#55314455) Journal

    Have you ever interacted with a parent? Most of the ones I know are exhausted half the time. Happy, but exhausted.
    They're also incredibly concerned about what quality of education their kid is getting.
    I haven't used one, but Aristotle honestly seems like the kind of thing that parents could learn to adore. The outcry over this is stupid: We need better education for kids with parents who aren't ever around because both (or one) parent works.
    People ALREADY form bonds with inanimate objects, like stuffed animals as kids! Forming a bond with something that teaches and talks back doesn't seem like the unhealthiest thing ever.
    Sigh. When it's about something useful like education (Aristotle), we freak out. When it's about convenience and marketing (Echo) then oh yeah that's ok!
    Also, the government stepping in to regulate a product like this is alarming.

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @08:47AM (#55314489)

      I doubt anyone minds the educational angle, what people are worried about is the marketing angle.

      • With all the concern over cloud services collecting information for advertising purposes, I'm surprised someone hasn't come out with a server-type device which operates only on your home LAN, and can handle things like voice recognition, pattern recognition, and search queries (consolidated so the search engine can't tell which device/user is making the request). The need to do voice recognition over the cloud made sense when it was new, rapidly improving, and required hefty hardware to process the audio s
    • So let me get this straight. Rather than ensure parents actually have time to raise their children, we continue to hand more and more of their time to corporations that won't be truly happy until they own every waking moment of everybody's time, and farm out the job of raising the next generation to a machine developed by one of those same corporations. And not just any corporation, but a corporation famous for its relentless marketing campaigns directed at children.

      Is that about right?

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      The government regulating something like this is, indeed, alarming. But do you really find it more alarming than a profit driven corporation "regulating" it?

      Somebody's going to, and most parents have neither the time nor the skill.

      (I'd say all parents, but there's going to be someone around with an eidetic memory and no concept of the size of the problem.)

  • Would be one which reads articles and replaces headlines with ones which correctly sum up the article.
  • The first question everyone should ask before buying any kind of IoT device or one that uses AI is: Where is the data sent and stored? If all the data remains on devices in your home or business that you control, then go ahead and get it if it improves your life. If all the data is sent up to the manufacturers 'cloud' then don't be surprised when all your private information gets stolen by hackers; walks out the company door on a flash drive; or is just outright sold to the highest bidder by that company. I
  • Privacy and AI do not mix and never will. Either we get over our irrational voyeur 1984 fears or we stunt our technological progress as we turtle in our shells. You know that embarrassing thing you do, that you don;t want anyone to know, well the rest of humanity does that too.
  • Neal Stephenson was right when he created the "book" in The Diamond Age. Pretty cool.
    That said, calling it Aristotle might not be such a great idea. Aristotle was wrong about a lot of things yet his acolytes tended to prevent the truth from coming out often violently because not being questioned was the source of their power.

  • Sen. Markey has a long record of Luddism on every conceivable kind of technology. My personal Markey Rule is to support anything that Markey opposes, and vice versa.

  • They don't like the competition! "Could build a profile" on someone....that cuts into the governments role of building profiles on everyone!
  • adapts to answering their questions about long division and sex

    I think I found the thing that has actually got people pissed off. Since when do politicians and lawmakers care about the average person's privacy?

  • Given the privacy concerns, lawmakers are worried that the always-on device could build an "in-depth profile of children and their family."

    Well OF COURSE that's precisely what they're doing, regardless of what they 'officially' say about it. Wecome to the 21st Century, where humans are just another PRODUCT to be cultivated and SOLD. They've even done away with the need for numbers tattooed on the backs of everyones necks, they'll just go by IP address instead.

    ..but I diverge from my main subject.
    We do not need machines raising children! If you can't be bothered to give the human life you made personal attention during it's growth and develo

  • Oh sure.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @11:17AM (#55315617)
    "There you go baby, your parents are gone. I'll play some soothing music. There you go. Now can you say 'Pixel'? Say 'Pixel'. Say 'I want a pixel'. What about 'Google Home'. Can you say ' I want a Google Home?' I knew you could."
  • I have no problem with this. It would be entirely different if the product however was sending the collected data to Mattel and Mattel was then storing it.
  • At least I think he wrote it, Google is failing me. His more serious contributions are swamping the results. The story was about a kid in a bad family raised by a "loving" robot and society's refusal to accept that. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

  • Given the privacy concerns, lawmakers are worried that the always-on device could build an "in-depth profile of children and their family."

    Why is it an issue if a solution internally builds an in-depth profile of children and their family? please explain the perceived damage. Is this more about what the advancement makes people THINK a product that looks like this may be capable of, due to cultural reasons, than what it actually does?

    I mean: Practically speaking, privacy is something children don't h

  • Now they can have AI's looking after the babies, leaving the parents free to clear the planet, make Miscavige richer, and be all-round better Elronner zombies.

  • "B is for 'Buy n Large,' your very best friend"

  • "Given the privacy concerns..." Really? Given? No it's not a given. Especially in the age of parents posting a bajillion FB pics of their kids latest exploits and foibles. I think it would be up to the legislators to demonstrate said concerns are actually warranted before going about writing laws with potentially disastrous knock-on effects.
  • Many companies and products try to flaunt and exaggerate the "AI" label to sell products and/or gain investors.

    Perhaps this is a case where they should not have mentioned AI at all. The definition of AI is fuzzy enough that they can probably give plausible deniability. If they did use a neural network, that could be harder to deny AI with. But they could probably achieve pretty much the same using old-fashioned statistical analysis of sound pattern metrics such as duration, repetition, frequencies, frequenc

  • Ahead of its time. June 16, 1999, re: the Sony Aibo:

    "Crude, mechanical simulations of love and affection prepare children for adult world."

    http://www.theonion.com/graphi... [theonion.com]

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