Every year at CES, there’s a slew of technologies aimed at parenting. Some are genuinely useful, and some are more of a “well, we can, so why not?” Mattel has announced Aristotle, an Echo-like AI speaker, that falls squarely in the second category.
The main thrust of it appears to be that it’s a kid-centered connected speaker. You can dictate stories into it and have it read them back to your kids, and as they get older they can ask it questions and use it as a parentally controlled way to search the internet. Mattel also envisions a line of toys to go with it.
Right off the bat, I hate this idea for a few reasons. One, reading to my kiddo is my favorite part of my day. Even if I were traveling, I would sooner video chat with him than leave him a recording on an insanely expensive speaker. I think reading to a kid is about the give and take, not just making them sit still and be dictated to like a 1950s secretary stereotype.
Second, have the folks at Mattel never put a kid to bed? Here is a small sample of the questions my kid (age 3.5) pelted me with while falling asleep tonight:
Why do dinosaurs poop?
Why do we eat?
Where does food come from?
Why did dinosaurs die out?
Where did the earth come from?
Where did the sun come from?
Can we walk to Europe?
Are you sure we can’t walk across the ocean?
Where did books come from?
Mattel and Bing can no doubt handle a lot, but nothing can withstand a curious child. And really, the best part is helping them through those logical questions as they try to understand their world. They can get generic answers from a speaker but they don’t need those…They need real answers from someone who understands not only the question but why they are asking it. My son is likely not going to clearly remember that I explained to him the history of the Gutenberg press (look, I was trying to lull him to sleep, don’t judge). But what he will remember is the sound of my voice, us giggling together and the fun times as he falls asleep. He’s not going to get that from a speaker.
This is a product that sounds interesting on paper, but when it collides with reality it doesn’t feel right. It’s incredibly overpriced at $299.99, and it feels an awful lot like the concept is basically “have this speaker raise your kid”. CES has some really cool kids products, but the Mattel Aristotle isn’t one of them.