Mattel's AI Babysitter Slammed

Mattel's Aristotle was created to 'soothe babies, reinforce good manners, help learn a language’ but was denounced by campaigners as a fake replacement of tangible care.

The development of Mattel's AI babysitter was forcefully halted due to a deluge of complaints on the negative psychological effects it would have on children.

Aristotle was first announced in January as a speaker providing features such as online shopping and verbal command for child raising help.

Besides conventional features similar to existing smart speakers, it is also equipped with a bluetooth camera to help monitor children and respond to different needs, “helping [to] sooth a crying baby … reinforce good manners in kids, and even help kids learn a foreign language”.

However, a US nonprofit campaign which gathered 1,500 signatures slammed Mattel's “attempts to replace the care, judgment and companionship of loving family members with faux nurturing and conversation from a robot designed to sell products and build brand loyalty”.

The campaign letter ends with “Young children should not be guinea pigs for AI experiments”.

According to a child psychologist, her worry “is the idea that a piece of technology becomes the most responsive household member to a crying child, a child who wants to learn, or a child’s play ideas.”

Democratic senator Edward Markey and Republican representative Joe Barton also responded against Mattel's initative by raising “serious privacy concerns” in relation to the device's ability to construct “in-depth profiles of children and their family”.

“It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” said Markey and Barton. They also queried how and when Aristotle's interaction with children would be recorded, and how the collected data would be used.

“We welcome the innovative and responsible use of artificial intelligence and speech recognition,” the letter says, “but we believe consumers should know how this product will work, and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data.”

Mattel's CTO Sven Gerjets said that the company has “conducted an extensive review of the Aristotle product and decided that it did not fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.”

“The decision was then made not to bring Aristotle to the marketplace as part of an ongoing effort to deliver the best possible connected product experience to the consumer,” the company responded.

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