Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Barbie and|the Non-Prophets

Should Barbie know your secrets?

Maybe it's just me, but there's something about those expressionless, wide staring eyes that makes me nervous.

So I'm not telling her anything. She doesn't need to know anything about me.

If you're not thinking I'm more insane than usual, you haven't heard about Hello Barbie.

I hadn't heard about her either -I haven't been doll-shopping lately - until a class action was filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that an "artificial intelligence-enabled fashion doll called 'Hello Barbie'" was violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, aka COPPA.

It seems that Barbie now will talk to your child and send recordings of the conversation to a database in the cloud.

What could possibly go wrong?

And you thought the National Security Agency was scary.

It's a cross between a "Twilight Zone" episode and a "Chucky" movie. Picture your child locked all night in her room, sharing the family secrets and credit card information with Barbie.

Picture all the neighborhood Barbies getting together and laughing at their owners and plotting the demise of parents.

It could happen, because this may be what children want. It says so on the ToyTalk Tumblr: "Mattel and ToyTalk built this doll because the #1 request from kids is to talk to Barbie."

It's a lot better than talking to parents or friends.

It gets creepier.

"(W)hen your child holds down the doll's belt buckle and speaks to Barbie, the audio is sent to ToyTalk's servers to perform speech recognition and artificial intelligence. Barbie's response is then sent back to the doll to be played through its speaker."

Um, the belt buckle?

Yes, they're encouraging children to press Barbie there. One can only hope that Barbie's response is to pull out a can of pepper spray.

And what happens when Barbie's database of conversations creates a massive artificial intelligence that dwarfs our meager brains?

It's not robots we have to fear.

All hail our short, polymer overlords.

Non-Prophet Pronouncement. I love it when headlines seem to bear no relation to the stories beneath them.

Corporate Counsel ran a piece last week under the headline: "5 Litigation Trends for 2016."

I was eager to find out what's going to happen next year.

I didn't find out.

There are five topic sections but the subheadings on two of them end with question marks and the last paragraph of one of begins: "It currently appears unlikely that this bill will become law."

So the article is really about five things that probably won't happen next year.

This is a wonderful concept.

Every year we get three things: lists of the most momentous stuff of the past year, resolutions for the next year, and predictions.

They're all pointless. The past is past and resolutions and predictions are mostly wrong.

What we need - or should have, anyway - are lists of things we won't do and things that won't happen because they're ridiculous.

I predict that I have something to write about next week. But will it happen?

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.