In the Out of Our Minds book, Sir Ken Robinson elaborately explained about the “septic focus” of education system. He took the jovial example of his friend Dave visiting his doctor for a kidney problem due to heavy beer drinking. The doctor in turn advises him to change to spirits that will avoid more damages to his kidneys. In reply to Dave’s concern about spirit may cause cirrhosis of the liver, doctor said “But you haven’t come to see me about your liver, am concerned about your kidneys.”
It sounded like meeting someone from the same school of thoughts at Kids India 2018 (a yearly B2B toy fair) event held at Mumbai. There was a penal discussion from the experts of toy industry, and during the conversation there was a reference about Robotic toys, yes Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered toys. Evidently the people behind such business justified the need of such robotic toys to resolve the emotional needs of the kids of working parents. They had all the facts and figures from the sample surveyed among metro cities of India to support their claims. Conventional toys do not interact with the kid well and the digital devices that interact smartly (Smart Phones and Tablets) are making them addict. So here is the solution the world was waiting for, the AI powered toy. This robot will accompany the kid right from waking up in the morning to listen to their bedtime stories. In between they will play and robot will share the wise tips (powered by the great Internet) for the benefit of the child be it related to nutritional food to eat, education, life skills, behavior etc. Thus it will act like a companion and serve to whatever extent the emotional needs of a child. Nearly perfect solution for the super busy parents in need.
To me the whole concept of serving the emotional needs of a child at the advent of a robot looks fundamentally incorrect. But in this industrialized world of today everything sells if one can spend fortune on advertising. So here is the product that is invented to help your child get rid of Smart Phone, Tablet and TV (in short it will reduce their screen time) thus cater to their emotions and of course the intelligence too. All in all, this seems like happy ending for those in need, until one shifts focus from septic to holistic.
It may look great to see such sensitive social issues been addressed by advanced technological toys, but have we thought about the after effects of giving AI enabled toys to our children? Are we not giving our children to the robots? No doubt, the makers of these robo-toys are not fools to miss the safety aspects. There must be ample builtin safety features but then there were Child Locks in the age old TV sets and Kid Mode in most Smart Phones, did it help them? Of course not, the human being always outsmarts such technology be it the child on this side or the hackers on the other.
Hope this post evokes some serious thoughts about consequences of giving such hi-tech toys to kids.