Teddy Bears with AI: Cool, creepy or a true security risk?

Jul 3, 2023, 7:15 AM

AI toys for kids are coming soon as of 2023...

Iraqi Kurdish pop singer Dashni Murad, known as the "Shakira of Kurdistan", offers a teddy bear to a displaced boy during a visit at the al-Khazar camp in the village of Hasan Sham, some 40 kilometres east of Arbil, on April 28, 2017. (Photo by Safin HAMID / AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by Safin HAMID / AFP via Getty Images)

In the not-so-distant future, you could walk in on a teddy bear reading a bedtime story to your child. And it wouldn’t be just any story — it’d be a saga tailored to everything the toy knows about your child, including likes, dislikes and even their deepest secrets.

Modern AI toys for kids are a far cry from the Teddy Ruxpin and Furbys from the 1980s and ’90s. Back then, those toys seemed creepy. Now, they’re nothing compared to the artificial intelligence-powered smart toys coming soon. 

We’re bound to see a slew of AI ChatGPT-powered toys hitting the scene this holiday season. Here’s what you should know before the kids start asking for them. 

Free AI games are already here

Anyone can go online and play AI chat games in a few clicks. AI tools like ChatGPT make it easy for developers to churn out engaging games. Even Buzzfeed is using artificial intelligence to make custom quizzes.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to say you could see AI teddy bears on your kids’ bed in a few years.

Imagine a toy that learns everything about your child. Your kid can hold entire conversations with the toy and it will respond in complete sentences. The more your child speaks to the toy, the more “intelligent” it becomes.  

This is what VTech CEO and toymaker Allan Wong is betting the company’s future on a line of AI teddy bears. He says the interactive plushies will offer parents an alternative to traditional bedtime story rituals. 

These AI-powered bears would use chatbot-style technology to create customized tales. They could talk a child down from a temper tantrum, entertain them and teach them lessons. No doubt, your child will form a real bond with this toy. 

Going way beyond basic information, I’m willing to bet these toys may also collect school and home locations and sensitive data about Mom and Dad.  

While the concept is innovative, the same privacy concerns that plague adult smart devices apply to these new kiddie gadgets. Whenever a toy has recording capabilities, the data is often collected, stored and shared with third-party buyers.  

AI toys for kids have been in the works for a while

Remember the Hello Barbie? In 2015, this Wi-Fi-enabled doll was the precursor to AI toys. It recorded, collected and saved conversations. The significant invasion of privacy and security risk was one thing. 

But there were also concerns about how the recorded data could be used for marketing purposes. Its maker, Mattel, was sued and made changes to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  

Keeping play private 

It’s impractical to try to avoid AI toys altogether, as they’re quickly becoming a household norm. But how can you make sure you and your family are safe? 

  • Disable things like cameras and chat functionalities, if possible.  
  • Enable any and all parental controls on the toys.  
  • Always read the gadget’s privacy policy.  
  • Make sure there’s a way to reset the toy to erase its capabilities and memory. Take those steps if your child stops using it. 

You could also try to convince your kid there’s something cooler than an AI toy. Maybe it’s not so bad stepping on Legos all the time.

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Teddy Bears with AI: Cool, creepy or a true security risk?