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Barbie Gets a Digital Makeover

Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, Domino’s Pizza has Dom, and Barbie will soon have... a connected version of herself.

Mattel recently unveiled Hello Barbie, which will have an embedded speech-recognition platform developed by ToyTalk, and can tell jokes, stories and play interactive games. It also makes use of cloud-based machine learning, so that over time, it learns and remembers what its child likes to discuss and find out about.

Hello Barbie isn’t alone in connecting with kids using the internet. Start-up Elemental Path is in the process of raising money on Kickstarter, with a plan for developing a line of smart toys powered by the IBM-developed supercomputer Watson. The first release will be a fluffy green dinosaur. And last November, Vivid Toy group released My Friend Cayla, a doll that uses speech-recognition and Google's translation tools.

Sadly, as with anything else, these toys can be hacked.

Cayla for instance quickly went from cool to concerning when security researcher Ken Munro discovered a vulnerability in its software that allowed a third party to hijack the doll via its Bluetooth connection. From there, it was possible to make it say whatever he or she chooses.

“Essentially Ken, or anyone else with the know-how, can hack into Cayla’s system to modify commands and CHANGE her responses to questions, making her say anything they want – including words on her 1500-strong ‘bad’ list,” reported the Daily Mirror.

Hello Barbie, which has not yet been given a release date, requires a Wi-Fi connection and is connected to the internet and ToyTalk’s secure server via a smartphone app. Depending on the security that Mattel builds in, there is clearly an opportunity for a man-in-the-middle attack using a fake app or rogue Wi-Fi connection.

Hello Barbie’s designers are bullish on the toy’s future, even so.

“The number one request we hear from girls around the world is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie. Now, for the first time ever, Barbie can have a two-way conversation,” said a spokeswoman for Mattel, speaking to the BBC

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