6 min read
Why Smart Toys are Good for Kids
The global market of smart toys is packed to capacity with a great number of playthings that push out traditional toys. Global smart toy market (that in addition to talking toys include health-tracking toys, wearables, puzzles, building games like Lego, and many others) is expected to reach approximately US$ 69,932.5 million by 2026. Internet, technology awareness and parent’s conscious effort to raise creative, quick-minded, and tech-savvy children do their bit. Besides, the period of engaged play with the same toys and games is descending — children become disappointed with traditional entertainment, and they’re demanding new toys much more often.
Today you do not think of an infant or a teen when talking about toys. Especially smart ones, that provide on-board intelligence features: there are million devices that can distract and amuse a person of any age with their simulated human-like intelligence. It is easy to talk to smart toys while being an adult — we know what’s good and what’s bad, we do understand, that toy uses electronics and it was trained by other people to better understand our speech and to react reasonably. But look at this toy through the eyes of a child and you’ll see the best one they’ve ever had.
Talking toys create a new form of entertainment, they include a new sense — hearing, producing new means of communication and expanding kid’s imagination. That makes talking toys the Tamagotchies and Furbies of the new era — they’re encouraging kids to play with them. So now that a gameplay includes robot, we wonder how safe it is? How beneficial it is? How does it impact psychic health and social skills of a child?
What is a smart toy?
A smart toy is an interactive device with its own mind owing to artificial intelligence. That means it can react to triggers, learn from the interactions, and actually choose the way it behaves with user in accordance with pre-programmed patterns. Some of them use voice recognition, some have touch sensors, some interact with user through the apps.
First smart toys’ intelligence was backed by onboard electronics — generation of kids have enjoyed a variety of devices from Tamagotchi, radio-controlled toy trucks, gamepads, walkie-talkies, and programmable robots. Todays smart toys are taking children’s entertainment and education to new levels, thanks to speech recognition, natural language processing, and natural language understanding. Just like Furbies used to attract children with their own ‘Furbish’ language and reaction, todays smart toys allure with its propelled features and humanlike expressions. In addition, built-in censors enable spatial awareness — that makes these toys look really smart.
Benefits of Smart Toys
The main purpose of the toys remains unchanged — they are still meant to entertain. But now they can do much more giving special experience and benefits.
When kids play with smart toys, they develop perception and reasoning. Smart toys help children in building a train of thought while they’re building conversations. And imbedded toy games like puzzles or quizzes boost up cognitive process and develop their capabilities to think freely. But the most important thing — kids discover appropriate social interaction, they define bad and good attitude, discover feelings and emotions. For example, some toys are programmed not to talk to bullies — when being mistreated they become sad or indifferent. So, in order to play with it, a kid will have to find the right words.
Imagination is the key when we talk of a child’s game. Every kid builds a whole new world around their toy while playing. And if the toy can help them to further evolve this world, and it encourages interest and exploration — it is becoming highly valuable. Building blocks may be used to build hundreds of buildings, and smart toys should be open-ended too, with a few different applications and capabilities.
Education is the main argument for smart toys because that’s their main purpose (besides entertainment, of course). And there are a lot of different games for any age. But what’s really important, is that playing with smart toys introduces children to the digital world. As time goes by, our electronic environment becomes more and more connected. For kids, that’s an essential process, but the sooner this computer interaction takes place — the higher kid’s skills get. Some toys offer lessons in core STEM disciplines and even basic programming. And these toys are becoming more and more popular, especially among busy working parents.
Ethics and safety
We got to admit, smart toy is quite a newish thing, and there’s no certification mark or quality label for it. And it’s unsurprising that safety and ethical questions arise among conscious parents — may children be misguided or even badly influenced by AI toys? What about security and privacy issues? Can toys be hacked? To tell the truth, it’s quite a huge and sensitive area, and another stand-alone article should be devoted to that topic. But to put alarmists out of suspense — things are not as bad as you might think — there are institutions and entities that ensure these toys are safe. It is really important to form a genuine understanding of a smart interaction between a kid and a toy — there are responsibilities on all sides — parents and manufacturers.
As with the world wide web, parents must take responsibility for what their child sees or hears. Smart toys haven’t become customary yet, and there are no special regulations on a child’s right to privacy (except for, perhaps, the Convention on the Rights of the Child). Some manufacturers may collect the information to put it, as they say, to good use — further toy’s training and improvement. But what we have learned, this information could fall into the wrong hands.
That is why parents have to drill down the information on the toy and its manufacturer. They have to be well-informed in order to foresee potential harm. Parents should inform themselves whether the company who develops those toys is trusted on ethical content and whether it works closely with child psychologists and pediatricians.
As AI toys become increasingly popular, it is clear that legislators and producers have to work together on technology targeted to the little ones and make sure it is completely safe. Robot’s nature should always be clear and intelligible, toys should be caring and compassionate. These toys should never be designed to deceive. The primary goal here is to enlarge children’s scope, educate and entertain. At the same time, we have to be mindful of the psychological hazards of attributing feelings to a toy.
A toy, a doll, a robot — is never a person. And it’s something to keep in mind constantly. Toys do not have feelings, though probably all of us used to anthropomorphize favorite toys when we were kids. This humanization may lead to dependency and that’s where the Tamagotchi effect may occur: in the 90s kids would go crazy if their digital pet died, so we have to make sure it is impossible to manipulate children’s feelings or actions through the voice-enabled device. Toys give a sense of psychological comfort and safety, but a long-time dependency on it can lead to isolation from the real world. This may, in turn, fade into a difficulty of differentiating between reality and fantasy, which is especially influential in children.
Smart toy may be compared to a child’s imaginary friend. This is a healthy relationship in moderation, but it should never be replacing interactions with real people. Children learn from adults and other kids while communicating — they learn empathy and body language; they hear sincerity and overtones. They need real interactions and smart toy can’t replace them — it’s still a toy.
And above all, talking toy is an excellent find for busy parents: device can compensate lack of communication when no one is around. They can educate and broaden kids’ horizons, they can ease anxiety and cheer them up, but what’s most important, is that they are always here to listen and to comfort them.