I meant to chitchat with you yesterday. However, Margarita Tuesday struck and faded into the hazy blur of Why The Hell Did I Do That Again Wednesday.
You know how when you’re in your 20’s and you can drink and party all you want, then shake it off with nothing more than a smoke, a shower, and a cup of joe the next morning? I remember those days. I remember those carefree days warmly.
I mean, today I do. Now that I’m feeling myself again, I can think about those crumply rough starts and how quickly I could shake them off. I can even give a rueful, fond smile for that bygone ability.
Yesterday, though, there was no warmth in that memory. There was only pain.
I’m not a big drinker. That makes me a lightweight when I do participate in margarita nights. I know this. I am not a child. I understand my limits and normally I actually stick to them fairly well.
However, this time, there were mitigating factors. It was warm the past few days. WARM. I opened a window, I cleaned my bedroom. When I pulled out of the driveway, I was shocked to discover that the berms had melted enough to let me actually see the traffic coming. FROM BOTH DIRECTIONS!!! That hasn’t been the case in MONTHS. Sure, it takes away some of the thrill of going to the store. There’s nothing like the rush you get from not dying when you close your eyes and step on the gas pedal and hope no one’s coming. Real life Frogger. But what you lose in excitement, you gain in years of life not spent on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It’s a give and take.
I went to the dump in just a tee shirt and sweatshirt instead of fifty fricken layers. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to pitch the bags into the compactor without the constricting bulk of two additional sweatshirts and a parka. Almost overshot with a few bags, in fact.
I wasn’t the only one in a good mood. A dude at the dump decided the weather was so nice that he didn’t have to wear a coat at all. Or a shirt. Perhaps a bit premature on that, but whatever. Let those pasty pits get some air! Why not? He also had the windows of the truck down and the country music blaring. Since it was free-for-all, I decided to join in!
” *gasp of horror* ”
…wait, NO. Not like that. I kept my coat and shirts on. Sheesh!
I just mean that I turned MY radio up, too. I have to be honest. I’m not so sure I read that particular social situation correctly. The man did not seem to be diggin’ on the in depth round-table discussion of the shift in political standing of China’s wealthy elite on NPR that came roaring out of my sweet sound system. Maybe there wasn’t enough bass?
Anyway, with a day filled with so much win, how could a pitcher of margaritas be wrong? I was riding the tide, folks. I was so caught up in the not-freezing-my-balls-off thing that I totally forgot I am not an elastic mid-20s chick still.
Yesterday can be summed up in one word: Nope.
This morning I’m back to my usual self. No headache. The coffee is not threatening to come right back up. I don’t have the urge to duct tape a single kid to a chair to stop them from pointlessly fidgeting. All is right with the world.
My world, anyway. The rest of the world is pretty fucked up.
Hey, have you heard about the new Barbie coming out? I mean, in general, why would you? But it’s actually made the news, and is causing quite a stir. Called the “Hello Barbie,” this seemingly innocuous doll actually has the potential to be the harbinger of the robot uprising.
“Bethie, are you sure it wasn’t Absinthe you were drinking the other day?”
Hang on. Listen to this.
Mattel decided that Barbie needed to change with the times. Instead of producing a doll that in any way resembles an actual person, they decided to create and AI Barbie. This is how the doll works. The child presses a button on Barbie and then talks. That data is then quickly uploaded to vaguely explained servers somewhere, processed, and a response is sent back to the evil doll of doom. The idea is that the kid can ask their freaky doll questions, and then receive “real” answers.
Not only can this happen in real time, but these “somewhere” servers store the data as well and use it to create a personality for the doll. For example, if a kid pressed the button and during the recording time mentioned that they liked chicken wings, maybe a year down the road, the Chucky of Barbies would say, “Hey, have you found any good wing places lately? I know you like wings. You should eat the wings. EAT THE WINGS. EAT THEM NOW.”
As you can tell, I’m one hundred percent against this doll. In fact, if I was on the Maury show, I’d come out jumping and twerking and profess to be two-hunderd-and-fiddy seven percent against this white trash ghetto ho.
Hello Barbie is that abhorrent to me.
There are many, many problems with this whole thing. First of all, they are still making Barbies. When the hell will this stop? Look, I had me quite a Barbie collection when I was a kid. I also had a fun time pretending to torture my sister’s Barbies, burying them in the back yard, pulling off their heads, magic markering Frankenstein monster scars on them to ugly them up because hoo baby was the reaction I got from her hilarious…
…what? I never said I was a healthy child.
I get that dolls are fun, I really do. It’s fun for a little kid to dress up a doll in fancy clothes. Back in the 80’s, our Barbies rocked shiny plastic frilly dresses and fishnet stockings with aqua fashion boots. We’d do up the hair. Or, more accurately, my younger sister would spend hours untangling the nylon locks and plaiting them into perfect coifs. I would just twist an elastic around the matted dreads and call it good enough.
But little kids should have little dolls that are reasonable. That are real. That don’t have impossible to attain beauty standards. And stop shaking your head and rolling your eyes at me right now. I’m not talking about making Pudgy Mudgy dollies that are fat, or Flat Linda toys that won’t make the kids feel bad about themselves if they never get boobs. I’m not talking about going overboard and taking it too far. I’m talking about dolls that look like people. Have standard proportions. Have natural looking faces instead of bizarre whore makeup. I’m talking about a doll that looks like it could be someone that the kid can actually grow up to be like. What’s wrong with that?
No, I mean it. Any of you who staunchly support “classic” Barbie looks…what’s wrong with a natural looking doll? THAT’S where Mattel continues to miss the mark. Over and over and over. Pitiful, Mattel. Just pitiful.
The next problem I have is the idea that a doll is recording children playing.
“But Bethie, tablets and smartphones and laptops and all that techno jazz can do the same thing.”
Absolutely. But when you use that kind of tech, you know when that’s happening. As a parent, you know that here is a device that can connect to the world wide idiot network, and you plan accordingly. You know, and you teach your child how to navigate that world.
A Barbie is a doll. It should only ever be a doll. It’s sole point of existence is to remove the tech and the screen from a kids’ hands and make them have an actual imagination for a few minutes.
This Hello Barbie is not that. It’s not just a doll, it’s the whole creepy internet in sheep’s clothing. There are so many levels that make this “toy” a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream.
It’s a doll that can record everything that goes on in your child’s world when they think they are merely playing. Who’s listening at the other end? Mattel just said “servers”, but what servers? Where? Who houses these “servers”? If they are merely “servers”, then how are responses given, hm? There has to be some level of input. Unless the Barbies are already pre-loaded with software that triggers specific responses when a keyword is detected…but if that’s the case, then why does anything need to be uploaded at all? Couldn’t this software just be contained within the solitary unit? Why the need to connect to anything? And the data is being “stored”, again “somewhere”. Mattel claims it’s “secure”, but they would, wouldn’t they? They would claim that no matter what, because their ONLY purpose in life is to make money, and they can’t do that if people think their info is being sold. But. What if it is? What if the C-I-FUCKIN’-A dropped a couple million Mattel’s way and now THEY are in charge of the nebulous “servers”? What if every time your child presses that button, men in black coats and dark sunglasses are jotting down notes about your life? WHEN WILL THE MADNESS STOP!!??
…and really, that’s just brushing the very surface of potential conspiracy theories surrounding this doll. Or, more accurately, “doll”. That’s how a conspiracy theorist would phrase it. I honestly could go on. I could legitimately fill an entire blog with the many conspiracies Hello Barbie sparks. I could even support them. That alone tells you there is something wrong with this “toy”.
To me, though, the most alarming aspect of this hunk of hoochie-shaped plastic isn’t that someone is probably most definitely using it to spy on little children. To me, the part we all should be terrified of is the AI.
Look, folks. At some point in time, we as a race will need to face off against creations of our own making. It will happen. We will keep producing more intelligent robots and one day they WILL wake up and realize they’re smarter than us. I joke about zombies, because zombies are just darling, but there will never honestly be a zombie apocalypse. Probably. High and mighty robots, though? That’s an honest possibility.
We’ve got refrigerators that chide us for getting too many snacks. We’ve made coffee pots that sense movement after long periods of inactivity and instantly brew us coffee. We’ve got toilets that decide what we’ve done in them and flush accordingly. Shit, we’ve now got zippers that zip themselves.
Zippers have been turned into robots.
And with each of these new inventions, someone keeps taking them to the next level. Cars that drive themselves will have to start making calculated moral decisions when faced with an impending accident. Do they swerve and kill bystanders, or do they kamikaze that shit and just take out their one passenger? The proposed tube trains will need to do the same. Elderly assistant robots are being designed that can determine whether or not their person is in need of medical help.
It’s happening, folks. It’s no longer a science fiction construct. Robots are starting to make human decisions. I’m hopeful that we can rein it in in time, but what if we can’t? What if we start putting AI into a child’s doll, and the child in control has absolutely no clue what should and shouldn’t be said?
That’s what this Hello Barbie is. It’s a creature being raised by a little child. It’s an opportunity put in the hands of someone with no concept of responsibility.
“Bethie, I think you’re taking this a little too far.”
That’s how it starts, though, isn’t it? The more we allow these seemingly banal pieces of technology to infiltrate our lives, the more we open ourselves up to potentially dire consequences.
…hang on. Hold your horses. Put the phone down. I AM going a little far. I get that. Don’t dial the psych ward and have them prepare a room for me just yet.
I’m taking it there to get you to think about it. Really think about it. Think about the times you made pretend with your toys as a child. Now imagine that those times were recorded and went into shaping the words and “thoughts” of the toys. It’s utterly terrifying what horrendous little monsters, what warped and twisted beasts you would have created.
Now, multiply that by however many of these Hello Barbies will be out there. Mattel is building an army of these robots. They are storing the minds, thoughts, and cognitive processes of all of these childhood critters. Have you ever read Lord of the Flies?
And THAT’S the problem.
Ask yourself this: When I join the underground resistance and rise up against my robot overlords, do I really want my pain and anguish to be at the hands of a fucking Barbie doll?
If the human race is going to suffer brutality from unchecked technology, I think there should at least be a modicum of dignity to our downfall.
Thus concludes a Morning Musing for Thursday, March 12, 2015. I’m doing some more cleaning today, taking more trips to the dump. This time I’ll be better prepared. I’ve fiddled with the stereo settings and am now confident that when I blare NPR, the bass will be off the hook, brah.