Saturday, November 10, 2012

Daddy, Somebody Hacked Teddy Ruxpin!

When I was a small child, my family went to DisneyWorld. For some insane reason, at DisneyWorld, they set up plastic trees instead of real trees, and even beyond that, the plastic trees had plastic birds on them. So I saw a bird in a tree, and I got excited to be so close to a bird without it flying away, but then when it continued not to move, I thought it was dead.

But then I noticed the tree was plastic, and the bird was plastic too, and I started wondering what was wrong with people. Frankly, I'm still wondering.

ToyTalk, a "family entertainment" startup that makes a "smart," internet-connected, artificially-intelligent teddy bear, has secured a total of $16M million in institutional funding. The company was founded by former Pixar CTO Oren Jacob, and ToyTalk CTO Martin Reddy previously worked at the organization that built virtual personal assistant Siri.

The sheer opportunity for clever children and especially teenagers to create inappropriate hacks here is just extraordinary. You could wire it up to a dildo, you could make it talk in a creepy voice and tell small children tales of murder, and that's without even really getting creative. I love Pixar, and I'm sure in some way this technology hits some Diamond Age apex of cyberpunk inevitability, but the only way I would ever buy this thing for its intended purpose is if my kids had severe mental disabilities and nobody else in the world had ever seen a computer before.

I have never seen anyone fail so hard at failing to anticipate negative consequences and/or overestimating their ability to prevent kids from being kids. (It's kind of odd to see an unprecedented level of fail which remains too ambiguous to entirely classify.)

This startup idea has genius to it, for sure, but in my opinion, it represents such an awful and utterly unrealistic choice about differentiating users and customers that Facebook looks like 37Signals by comparison.