If you've long dreamt of the day that a virtual babysitter could sing your child back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night, you may have heard about toymaker Mattel's Echo-like smart speaker project: the Aristotle.
While the device was initially designed to serve as a digital assistant/AI babysitter hybrid, the project has now been cancelled entirely. This decision comes as a result of public outcry regarding the device's alleged "privacy infringing" data collection functionality and the potential impact an AI babysitter could have on a child's psychology long-term.
Both of these concerns (and more) were raised via a petition created by nonprofit child-advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The petition, which was addressed to Mattel CEO Margaret Georgiadis, managed to garner over 15,000 signatures in a relatively short period of time.
The following petition excerpt details the bulk of the organization's concerns with the Aristotle:
Aristotle will make sensitive information about children available to countless third parties, leaving kids and families vulnerable to marketers, hackers, and other malicious actors.
Aristotle also 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.
Whether or not these concerns were well founded, and with the device's production halted entirely we may never know. Such an abrupt end to the device's development (and the backlash that preceded it) could certainly deter other companies from trying to create similar products in the future.
The device would have been capable of a number of childcare-related tasks, including the telling of bedtime stories, educational content, homework assistance and the ability to intelligently sing soothing lullabies as a response to late-night outbursts. The Aristotle would also have acted as a baby monitor, providing audio-visual feedback to parents via its connected camera.