The advent of the Internet of Things is the first step in machines controlling almost every aspect of human life. And why not? Machines can do all the necessary tasks (turning lights and coffee pots off and on, controlling thermostats and refrigerators, activating alarms and so forth) faster and more reliably than humans can. Humans will still have a role in telling all these smart devices what we want them to do, and Google is spending a lot of time and money researching that human-machine interface.
A recent example is a patent for a responsive toy designed to control smart devices registered under inventor Richard Wayne DeVaul, whose job title is “director of rapid evaluation and mad science” at Google X, also known as the “skunkworks” lab.
More on Google’s toy to control smart devices patent
The patent was actually first filed back in February of 2012, but it was only recently published by the USPTO. The patent describes toys that would include microphones, speakers, cameras and motors as well as a wireless connection to the internet.
The description says that a “trigger word” would cause the toy to activate and look towards the person addressing them, and could even confirm if the individual talking was making eye contact.
Moreover, the connected toy device can respond both by speaking and by producing “human-like” expressions of interest, curiosity, boredom or surprise.
“To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head and/or focus its gaze on the user,” the description continues. “To express curiosity, [it] may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and/or scratch its head with an arm.”
Google statement on patent for toy to control smart devices
Google was contacted to for a comment on this story, and a spokesperson replied: “We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with.”
She continued to say: “Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications.”
Privacy advocates have concerns
Mikhail Avady, from the nonprofit SmartUp, said he thought Google’s new smart toy belonged in “a horror film”, and the group Big Brother Watch has also expressed unhappiness.
“The privacy concerns are clear when devices have the capacity to record conversations and log activity,” noted Big Brother Watch director Emma Carr. “When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line.
“Children should be able to play in private and shouldn’t have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy. It is simply unnecessary,” she added