The US-based toy manufacturer Mattel has decided to scrap its controversial ‘virtual nanny’ system, Aristotle, following privacy concerns being raised by a number of campaign groups.
As we reported in January, Mattel announced plans at the start of the year for what it thought could have been a highly lucrative product – an artificial intelligence-powered device which had multiple functions designed to, in the company’s words, “aid parents…to make it easier for them to protect, develop, and nurture the most important asset in their home – their children”.
The various functions of the Aristotle device were supposedly to have included the ability to sing lullabies and tell bedtime stories, as well as being able to gauge when a particular product (such as nappies) was running low and automatically reordering them.
Perhaps most controversial of all, however, was the small camera which came with the device and was supposed to have acted as a visual baby monitor. Campaigners were quick to express their worries that the camera – as it was part of a connected device – could potentially have been breached by hackers.
“Aristotle isn’t a nanny, it’s an intruder”
In July, Mattel appointed a new chief technology officer – Sven Gerjets – who decided to review the feasibility and reputational risk of releasing Aristotle, eventually coming to the conclusion that doing so would not have been worth the potential consequences.
Gerjets’ choice will no doubt have been influenced by the extremely negative press Aristotle has received from some quarters ever since it was unveiled in January: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an influential US group, released a statement arguing that “Aristotle isn’t a nanny, it’s an intruder. Children’s bedrooms should be free of corporate snooping”, as reported by the BBC.
Mattel’s decision will no doubt be welcomed by the many experienced and highly qualified nannies and other domestic household staff – and their employers – who will be all too aware that there can be no real substitute for the care and compassion of a real guardian.
Image Credit: Jenna Norman