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How a Barbie doll prepares your child for the future

Mike Elgan | March 1, 2016
In the future, every computer, appliance and vehicle will have a conversational UI (just like Barbie).

These new products and services are part of a much larger trend toward the conversational UI.

What parents got wrong about Barbie

Hello Barbie works like Siri. You talk to the doll, the doll talks back. And like Siri, children are actually talking to software in a remote data center. Their voices are recorded. The recording is sent and processed. A Barbie-like response is constructed and sent back down through the Internet and home Wi-Fi network to the doll, which replies.

The initial press on this product, which shipped in November, skewed negative. As an Internet-of-Things appliance connected to a home Wi-Fi network, Hello Barbie was called insecure. Others said that a product that records the voices of children is creepy.

The critics are completely wrong on both counts. Hello Barbie should serve as a model for how IoT devices should handle security.

Late last year, a security company called Blue Box discovered potential vulnerabilities in Hello Barbie and the companion app, but then later admitted that due to ToyTalk's "fast response time, a number of the issues have already been resolved." No doll has been hacked. And the company launched a security bug bounty program, paying security researchers for finding any future problems.

Few IoT device makers are acting this responsibly on security.

Regarding the discomfort people feel about children interacting with a virtual assistant bot housed on a remote server, I'll just come right out and say it: Get used to it, people. This is the future.

Talking to a virtual assistant and the virtual assistant talking back is what using a computer will be in just a few years.

It's also worth pointing out that actively engaging a virtual personality in child-directed conversation is probably better for kids than passively watching TV for hours, or using any screen-related technology, for that matter.

So if you want to prepare your daughter for the future of technology, get her a Hello Barbie. Because Barbie works today like everything will work tomorrow.


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