IBM's Watson Inspires A Child's Toy - InformationWeek

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IBM’s Watson Inspires A Child’s Toy

A talking dinosaur powered by IBM's Watson may be your favorite new toy. Oh, and your kid might like it, too.

Millennials In IT: How To Talk To Old People
Millennials In IT: How To Talk To Old People
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As someone living the "IT Life," you are probably constantly struggling to find toys that can spark your child's imagination and get them into technology. I've got one for you that is fairly impressive: CogniToys.

CogniToys are friendly dinosaurs that can tap into the power of the Internet through IBM's Watson and talk to your child in natural language. Think of them as cuter, less snarky, more powerful versions of Siri. They will be available in March thanks to a successful Kickstarter effort.

CogniToys, produced by Elemental Path, won an IBM Watson developer's contest, and they combine some of our favorite tech trends: They were prototyped using 3-D printing, they parse natural language, and they tie into big data through the cloud with IBM's Watson. All of that for less than $100 per toy -- and you can still order one at a discount through the Kickstarter campaign.

[ Trying to fuel a young woman's interest in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Read 12 STEM Resources For Young Women. ]

But what kind of toys are they? They look pretty fun. You squeeze the dinosaur's belly and you ask it a question, like, "How far away is the moon?" It performs a search and answers the question in language that kids understand. That's not all. It can ask questions of your child, and it will store the information so it can personalize the experience. It will quiz your child in fun ways to see where his or her skills are. Supposedly, each toy will grow with your child so that it can interact with the child on age-appropriate level. Here's a video:

I have some doubts. For one, couldn't its creators have given it a name like Sherlock. (Get it? Watson’s friend.) Or Tommy (after Thomas Watson)? Wouldn't it be better if they put some fur on it so it was a little easier to snuggle with? And what's up with the voice that sounds like it has been smoking a pack-a-day for the last 20 years? I know it is supposed to sound like Kermit, Cookie Monster, or Yoda, but I think it would inspire my child to ask CogniToys about strep throat.

(Image: Elemental Path via Kickstarter)

(Image: Elemental Path via Kickstarter)

And let's face it, we've been promised this before. Remember the Furby that was supposed to learn to talk? Or even Teddy Ruxspin.

I have eternal faith that one day we really will create a toy which will talk intelligently to our children. If Watson can win Jeopardy, surely it can talk to our kids. If CogiToys can achieve one tenth of Watson’s power inside a small toy, I can't imagine it won't be a real inspiration and learning tool for a child.

In effect, what the makers of CogniToys are promising, for less than $100, is a voice interface to the Internet that can talk at a level appropriate for your child. That seems valuable, safe, and very promising. If this works. I can’t help but imagine a generation of children inspired to learn, although, perhaps they will grow up a bit disappointed that the rest of the Internet isn’t quite as cute.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
2/25/2015 | 11:50:11 AM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin

Very interesting I like the concept especially for young children. While I love my voice search tools on my phone and kindle safety is a concern for my child, searches can still yield questionable results. It would be great if it had a screen for visual backup or a tablet attached to its belly.

David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 2:55:58 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@stratustician- I love this idea. I volunteer the IWeek Community. I think we throw a big party at Interop or somewhere and we invite all the IWeek people to get drunk and then we bring in some sober voice activiation experts to learn from us. :)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 2:54:42 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@Kelly22- Unfortunately, parents have had to deal with this with baby monitors, nanny cams, and all sorts of stuff already. I believe in a connected world, but  I have to say I wouldn't have STARTED so much in the child space. But it seems like parents want conveneince so much that is where the money is.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 2:52:05 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@vnewman2- Or it could have adware and start trying to sell other toys like Lenovo seems to have been trying to do. there is a problem with trust in everything we buy these days. We used to worry about lead paint. Now we worry about malware. I don't know if it is harder to be a parent these days but it sure does seem to require a borader base of IT knowledge.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 2:49:32 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@progman2000- I don't know if it a bug or a feature when a kid asks about colors and the toy comes back with 50 Shades or Grey. :)

No, seriously, I get the issue. My general experience with my kids is that things fly right over theirs heads until they're ready for them, and then when they "get it" they were ready anyway. Still, I'd rather make the mistake than my toy making it.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 2:09:02 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
I never thought of that! You know the Internet of Things is going too far when you have to worry about a kid's toy getting hacked...
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/18/2015 | 5:14:45 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@Kelly22- I always thought of Furbies as Gremlins. They were fine as long as you didn't get them wet or feed them after midnight. :)

Seriously though, what is up with the creep factor in kids toys these days? i know not everything can look like kermit the frog, but it seems like everything is the stuff of nightmares lately.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/18/2015 | 5:12:46 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@TerryB- The hardest one for me is when my kids would wait until two seconds before we arrived at school or something to ask what happens when you die.

I suspect certain questions have a programmed answer  like "ask your parents" and if they don't, they soon will. :)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/18/2015 | 5:11:23 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@vnewman2- I get that. I would assume good parents would use this to supplement human contact rather than replace it. And I've seen too many parents fake an answer rather than Google something. So I think I'd rather the child have a backup plan. :)

That said, you are right to never think a toy can replace human contact.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/18/2015 | 5:09:27 PM
Re: Next-Gen Teddy Ruxpin
@Stratustician- I can imagine voice recognition is tough with children considering I can't get my phone to understand me and they let me talk on the radio. :)

It would be nice if you could use this technology to try to learn the speech patterns of a child where they might be struggling. Hopefully that's in version 2.0.
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