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Beware Of The AI-Fitted Teddy Bears, Leading Toymaker Warns

Teddy bears that read your children stories sounds like a premise for a horror film – but one expert says it will become a reality in just five years.

Allan Wong, co-founder of toymaker VTech, thinks teddies will be fitted with AI that will offer an alternative to parents reading to their kids.

Like a cross between ChatGPT and Furby, the toy would listen to everything the child says and use the data to create personalised bedtime tales just for them.

AI-enabled teddies will likely be available in 2028, Wong said, although he admitted the possibilities of smart tech are ‘a little scary’.

Smart toys by created Wong’s firm have already been the subject of a Which? report as they could potentially be vulnerable to hacking by strangers.

As the child becomes more attached to their toy and reveals more about his or her daily life, the ted would become smarter and smarter.

Wong said AI-enabled teddies would use chatbot-style methods to ‘generate stories customised for the kid rather than reading from a book’, freeing up the parents to do other activities.

As the child becomes more attached to their toy and reveals more about his or her daily life, the ted would become smarter and smarter.

‘You can incorporate not only the kid’s name, but the kid’s daily activities,’ Wong told the Financial Times.

‘[It] knows you go to which school, who your friends are. It can actually be telling a story and talking almost like a good friend.

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‘The kids… can actually talk to the toy, and the toy can actually give [them] a response – so many, many possibilities.’

VTech has already released a wide range of smart kids’ toys including touchscreen tablets, smartwatches, cameras and the KidiSnap Touch – a phone-like device that takes photos and lets users message their friends.

It’s unclear if Wong’s company is working on AI-enabled teddies to add to the list, although he said it’s watching the potential of AI in products ‘very closely’.

Such a teddy would have to be fitted with a microphone to listen to what the child says 24/7, unless it was switched off, as well as a speaker to talk to the child, much like the popular 1990s Furby toy.

Allan Wong (pictured) is co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong toymaker and eletronics company VTech

Allan Wong (pictured) is co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong toymaker and eletronics company VTech

Some sort of device embedded in the toy would take the audio, process it and deliver a reply to the child, perhaps similar to the Furby that a programmer hooked up to ChatGPT earlier this year.

Wong admitted that toymakers should be aware of the potential security and privacy concerns before such a device ever came to market.

As the teddy becomes like a ‘good friend’ to the child, he or she wouldn’t think twice about telling it very personal information that could somehow wind its way back to the company.

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Jake Moore, security specialist at ESET, said such a gadget could potentially expose lots of sensitive data – potentially about mum or dad.

‘Every time information such as the child’s name and interests is input into any AI algorithm, the data is stored, analysed and potentially even shared for a price too with third parties, which can create security and privacy issues in the future,’ Moore told MailOnline.

‘Children need to adapt to the new age of AI but they need to be taught the risks as well along with how and when to limit the sharing of personal data.’

The ‘scary’ concept of AI teddies has already been alluded to by London non-profit organisation 5rights Foundation, which works to protect children online.

In 2021, 5rights revealed a pretend toy range called ‘Twisted Toys’ as part of a campaign to highlight potential dangers of giving smart devices to children.

The range included a Share Bear which gathers and shares a child’s data and a Pocket Troll which scrutinises every moment of a child’s day and bombards them with unkind comments.

There was also a storybook of terms and conditions that would take hundreds of hours to read and a ‘stalkie talkie’ letting strangers interact with children.

Source: Dailymail

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