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2/18/2015
12:06 PM
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IBM’s Watson Inspires A Child’s Toy

A talking dinosaur powered by IBM's Watson may be your favorite new toy. Oh, and your kid might like it, too.



Millennials In IT: How To Talk To Old People
Millennials In IT: How To Talk To Old People
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As someone living the "IT Life," you are probably constantly struggling to find toys that can spark your child's imagination and get them into technology. I've got one for you that is fairly impressive: CogniToys.

CogniToys are friendly dinosaurs that can tap into the power of the Internet through IBM's Watson and talk to your child in natural language. Think of them as cuter, less snarky, more powerful versions of Siri. They will be available in March thanks to a successful Kickstarter effort.

CogniToys, produced by Elemental Path, won an IBM Watson developer's contest, and they combine some of our favorite tech trends: They were prototyped using 3-D printing, they parse natural language, and they tie into big data through the cloud with IBM's Watson. All of that for less than $100 per toy -- and you can still order one at a discount through the Kickstarter campaign.

[ Trying to fuel a young woman's interest in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Read 12 STEM Resources For Young Women. ]

But what kind of toys are they? They look pretty fun. You squeeze the dinosaur's belly and you ask it a question, like, "How far away is the moon?" It performs a search and answers the question in language that kids understand. That's not all. It can ask questions of your child, and it will store the information so it can personalize the experience. It will quiz your child in fun ways to see where his or her skills are. Supposedly, each toy will grow with your child so that it can interact with the child on age-appropriate level. Here's a video:

I have some doubts. For one, couldn't its creators have given it a name like Sherlock. (Get it? Watson’s friend.) Or Tommy (after Thomas Watson)? Wouldn't it be better if they put some fur on it so it was a little easier to snuggle with? And what's up with the voice that sounds like it has been smoking a pack-a-day for the last 20 years? I know it is supposed to sound like Kermit, Cookie Monster, or Yoda, but I think it would inspire my child to ask CogniToys about strep throat.

(Image: Elemental Path via Kickstarter)

(Image: Elemental Path via Kickstarter)

And let's face it, we've been promised this before. Remember the Furby that was supposed to learn to talk? Or even Teddy Ruxspin.

I have eternal faith that one day we really will create a toy which will talk intelligently to our children. If Watson can win Jeopardy, surely it can talk to our kids. If CogiToys can achieve one tenth of Watson’s power inside a small toy, I can't imagine it won't be a real inspiration and learning tool for a child.

In effect, what the makers of CogniToys are promising, for less than $100, is a voice interface to the Internet that can talk at a level appropriate for your child. That seems valuable, safe, and very promising. If this works. I can’t help but imagine a generation of children inspired to learn, although, perhaps they will grow up a bit disappointed that the rest of the Internet isn’t quite as cute.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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