In a terrifying move, Mattel has decided that the way to boost Barbie’s troubled sales numbers is to hook the iconic doll up to the Internet and let it talk to children.
‘Hello Barbie’ is set for release later in 2015, and will see the doll be able to have real conversations with kids for the first time.
The doll’s makers will partner with San Fransisco startup ToyTalk, and use a combination of speech recognition and ‘branching’ dialogue to let children talk to the doll.
According to this Fast Company profile, ToyTalk will have writers produce pre-written responses and adjust them over time - studying what kids say to the doll and creating new types of conversations.
This isn't just Barbie reciting recorded phrases - this is kids, talking to Barbie, over the web.
ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob told FastCompany that talking to Barbie was “the number one request over all demographics, over all geographies, of all time. For the first time we're doing that for real”.
A prototype of the doll is on show at the New York Toy Fair (there’s video over at Gizmodo) and so far it looks like the conversations will start out with basics like favourite colours and school subjects. But gradually it will evolve.
"They'll talk about feelings, and fashion is always fun. It's Barbie, so we have to get there. We'll be taking a look at Barbie and what the girls and boys who play with Barbie want to do, what they want to ask her."
"Whatever we come away with as our first blush attempt at the conversations, we'll see week one what kids want to talk about or not… We'll take our honest best guess at that and then see what comes back, and then that will change and evolve over time as those conversations happen between individual children and Barbie dolls."
We’ll of course wait to judge how this will work in real life. The best case scenario is just a more interesting, futuristic toy - and before you get too horrified it’s worth considering that ToyTalk’s tech is already present in a number of apps and appears to be working well.
Final pricing, features and release date are TBA.