The December 17, 2015, Wall Street Journal article “Talking Toys Are Getting Smarter: Should We Be Worried?” by Geoffrey A. Fowler horrified me. Yes, I’ve been writing near future sci fi stories that deal with totalitarian control of people, but talking dolls connected to the Internet is a serious threat right now.
The subhead of the article is:
“Internet-connected talking dolls like Hello Barbie that can actually converse are bewitching kids but unsettling parents. Are they really the menace critics have made them out to be?”
And while the article talks about stifling children’s creativity and hampering free play, in a sidebar available in the online Wall Street Journal but not in the print edition, Fowler also talks about security concerns in terms of hackers obtaining information about children.
For me, though, the scariest scenario is how the dolls could be used to brainwash children.
Recently I spoke to a woman who grew up in Romania under Communism. She mentioned that she and the other children were taught to report their parents who spoke against Communism. And I know children in Nazi Germany were also taught to report their parents.
Now imagine a doll that is connected to the Internet, which is how these new talking dolls work.
Then imagine a nefarious person or cause that hacks into the talking dolls’ online system and starts brainwashing the children who play with these dolls. The classic “Manchurian Candidate” will seem like child’s play (excuse the pun) compared to the potential for harm from these talking dolls.
The minute I read this article I started writing a horror short story in my head — and I don’t even read or write horror stories! Yet I may actually write this story because I believe parents need to realize the potential weapon they are placing in their children’s hands.
Not a doll that comes to life but a doll who can spend hours alone with a child brainwashing that child!
In the article sidebar Fowler said in discussing the dolls’ vulnerabilities to hackers:
For parents, perhaps the most important thing to watch is how seriously companies take reports of vulnerabilities, and how prominently they feature security information on their websites.
And if a toy company doesn’t force parents to choose a secure password and change it from time to time, it could be a sign they don’t take security as seriously as you do.
Secure passwords may protect from hackers, but what about the companies themselves? Just suppose the companies are not American. And suppose …
Oh, brave new world, are we really going to make it so easy for others to control our minds?
UPDATE: Click here to read my short story NATIONAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE inspired by this blog post.
© 2015 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks, including HOW TO SUCCEED IN HIGH SCHOOL AND PREP FOR COLLEGE and the romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY. All of her Kindle ebooks can be read for free via Amazon’s monthly subscription program Kindle Unlimited. Phyllis can be reached at email@example.com