A Happy Medium

The Internet of Things has made it possible to have smart technology that brings us closer together and makes aspects of our lives easier; but, what does that mean for children? Parents of today are searching for the best way to navigate raising children in a connected world. They are searching for the balance between digital and offline—and for good reason. Corporate data breaches and individual privacy concerns have become today’s norm, and children are not immune to these and other online dangers.

On a more personal level, some parents are concerned about how the digital world and incessant connectivity may affect their children. Parents are asking themselves if the access given even on a child’s smart toys is safe—and how they should monitor and limit their child’s screen time. Some are even asking higher level questions, including whether AI poses a threat to their child.

Navigating the new wave of children’s toys and entertainment is a challenging question for parents today, but there are some companies that are working to find a more balanced approached to a child’s play and development.

A potent example of the dangers that connected toys can play was demonstrated by University of California, Santa Cruz researchers who were able to hack a CogniToys Dino. The toy is interactive: children talk to the toy and it responds with surprisingly coherent answers, all managed by storing the child’s voice in the cloud.

UCSC exposed a flaw in Dino’s cloud encryption and were able to reveal the child’s personal information and location. The researchers went so far as to impose their own messages—all while sounding like the child-friendly Dino.

The problems like those plaguing Dino are part of what encouraged father and entrepreneur Basile Fattal to create a safer toy for children in this digital world. With these worries in mind he built the company TIMIO, which creates education-based toys for children. Instead of using touch screens and internet connected toys, the brand uses “old school” tech in their toys. The toys still use smart power to educate young children, with audio and a touch pad to build the relationship between what they see and hear.

A unique example of balancing the digital experience with real life experience, Spot, by New Deal Design, is AI-powered, but encourages children to get out and discover. The toy functions as a hand-held scanner, allowing kids to scan an object which Spot will then monologue about.

In addition, at bedtime the device will play “Story Time” for a child. Story Time will use a built-in projector to tell a customized story of the day’s events and what the child discovered, highlighting his or her learning and building individual self-esteem.

The world is only getting more connected, so why shouldn’t our kid’s toys be AI-powered, cloud-shared, and internet connected? Companies are realizing what’s most important is, first, children’s safety and privacy, then building knowledge, and last, but not least, entertainment.

Sure, there may be room for advancements in children’s playtime, and safety has to be a priority—but one that gets addressed quickly. Because on a higher level,  these toys are about preparing them for a world that will be entirely online by their adulthood.

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