Google's hoping there's a market for sophisticated artificial intelligence voice assistants you can hug. The company's most recent patent design for an anthropomorphic voice assistant/toy reads like someone dreamt it up after watching an AI and Ted double-feature (and had obviously never seen Child's Play).
It's a robot shaped like a teddy bear or bunny that uses facial recognition to identify the gaze of whoever's looking at it.
The toy, equipped with cameras and microphones, will respond to voice commands and play music or turn on a connected media player. It's basically a spin on the Amazon Echo, wrapped in a cuddly exterior, or a super-juiced version of those plush dolls paranoid parents use to spy on their kids and babysitters.
Google's illustrations for its potential personal media player are fodder for nightmares. The drawings are quite rough, but it really nailed the "soulless eyes" look:
The patent explains that the doll will also sometimes produce a "visible acknowledgement" when someone talks. Which I can only imagine would look something like this:
Google isn't exactly first out of the gate here with vaguely creepy AI toys. Mattel already dove into a silicon-fuelled uncanny valley with "Hello Barbie," a Barbie equipped with conversational intelligence technology. And a company called CogniToys is developing an AI dinosaur toy it hopes will "develop the capacity to reason about the child's life."
Perhaps to quell fears that Google is targeting kids with a device capable of storing data on whatever they say or do in its presence, the patent tries to pretend like a jazz-loving adult would also use it. "If the voice command is 'play late-period John Coltrane,' the media device command may instruct media device 404 to play music recorded by John Coltrane between 1965 and 1967," it reads.
But come on. Putting a voice-controlled assistant inside a toy is either a bid for kids or a bid for the Adult Baby community, and there aren't enough TLC specials in the world to make aiming at the Adult Baby community lucrative.
If Google makes this device, the biggest problem will undoubtedly be dealing with privacy. A doll with the ability to passively collect audio and video data on what's going on in a kid's room (or, ugh, fine, and Adult Baby's room) gives off a distinct "surreptitious surveillance" vibe.
Images/GIFs from: iCollector, US Patent & Trademark Office, Giphy