Even though it has its fingers in many pies already, the Research and Development Department at Google has yet another idea it wants to try out: designing internet-connected toys with the ability of controlling smart home appliances.
Its patent characterizes the devices as being able to turn their heads in the direction of the user’s voice and listen to their commands; after that, it sends commands to remote computer servers.
SmartUp, a legal technology firm, has recently discovered the patent, which they described as “one of Google’s creepiest patents yet.” They are not the only ones raising questions, as a lot of privacy campaigners are unsure if this would be a good idea.
According to a spokeswoman for Google, it is yet to be established if the product will be eventually developed; she says a lot of creative ideas provided by the company’s employees are patented, but only some of them turn into real products or services.
Patent applications are not necessarily a reason to announce prospective products. Even though Google filed a patent for this device back in February 2012, it has been made public only now. Richard Wayne DeVaul, Google X’s head of rapid evaluation and mad science, as his title goes, is the one to invent these toys.
Description of the device states that it would be equipped with cameras, microphones, and a most-necessary wireless connection to the Internet; it can wake up by voice command, when the user says a predefined trigger word.
The creepy part kicks in when the proposal suggests the toy will not only be able to turn their gaze in the direction of the user addressing them, but it can also identify whether or not they are making eye contact.
Besides taking commands, the toy can also reply with either words or by mimicking expressions of interest, surprise, boredom or curiosity. Mr. DeVaul explained this would be achieved by giving the anthropomorphic device the capacity of opening its eyes, tilting its head or focusing its gaze intently on the user.
According to the drawings attached to the proposal, the toy could take the form of a teddy bear or bunny rabbit, but the text adds further alternatives, such as dragons or little aliens. One of the main traits of the machine would be its cuteness, a characteristic that would encourage even the children to not be afraid of interacting with it.
The options are unlimited when it comes to what will the toy be able to control – from televisions and DVD players to lights, home thermostats, electrical fireplace and motorized window curtains.
However, a lot of people and companies have already expressed their dismay regarding this kind of AI toy. Some believe the idea belongs in a horror movie, and not in the home of a family, where there’s always the possibility of turning it into a Big Brother kind of device.
An online petition launched by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood has already attracted more than 42,000 signatures.
Image Source: Lorraine Electronics