main article image
CogniToys/Elemental Path

An IBM Supercomputer Is Making Its Debut in a Kid’s Toy

MYLES GOUGH
24 FEB 2015

You all remember Watson, right? You know, IBM’s supercomputer that absolutely killed it on Jeopardy! four years ago, destroying two of the TV show’s greatest human champs.  

 

Well, Watson is about to make his debut in toy form, as the brain of a small green dinosaur that will interact with and teach your future kid or your younger sibling, and probably get to know them better than you - at least in terms of what's piquing their curiosity, and maybe even in terms of how quickly they're learning.

The creators of the CogniToy say their 3D-printed “internet-connected smart toy” will “learn and grow with a child”.

“We’ve built a... technology that allows kids to directly engage in intelligent conversation with their toys. The technology allows toys to listen, speak and simultaneously evolve, learn and grow with your child, bringing a new element of personalised, educational play to children,” the team says on its Kickstarter page.

Watson’s intellectual power rests in its ability to read and understand natural human language, and to scan through copious volumes of texts and data at an insanely fast rate. Furthermore, Watson gets smarter as he goes: it can be taught by users and it can learn from past interactions.

The ability to answer questions very quickly, with a high degree of accuracy, is one of his most desirable skills. So talking to young kids should be a breeze, considering they ask A LOT of questions and pretty much expect you to know the answer to EVERYTHING.

What makes the toy so powerful is that it can hold conversations and understand personality preferences, while mixing in learning exercises, says co-founder Arthur Tu in the the Kickstarter video. “Eventually the toy will continue to develop the capacity to reason about the child’s life.”

Evan Ackerman from IEEE Spectrum discusses the potential of the toy:

"Behind the scenes, CogniToy's developers can figure out what kinds of interactions work best, and continually optimise the toy’s conversation, while adding new features over time. This can be applied on a per-child basis or much more generally. For example, if a child asks lots of science questions, the CogniToy could talk about science more often. Or conversely, the CogniToy could try and introduce kids to science if it notices that they don’t ask about it at all."

IBM has been trying to apply Watson’s artificial intelligence to real-world problems in a way that can actually make them some money (because its 77K winnings on the show - which hopefully went to charity - haven’t quite helped IBM break even). In addition to setting up a $100 million venture capital fund to spur innovation around the technology, IBM also held a contest in 2014 to find some of the more promising application ideas floating around. The makers of CogniToys were one of three winners.

“We're either really on to something, or we’re absolutely crazy,” says co-founder JP Benini in their video.

It seems like it might be the former. With 22 days to go on its Kickstarter fundraising campaign the team has already secured $170,000, which is more than triple their initial target.

And whether you welcome the arrival of our new "computer overlords" in toy form or not, one thing's for sure, it will probably be a lot better (and hopefully more patient) than comedian Louis C.K. when it comes to dealing with the many questions of kids.

Source: IEEE Spectrum