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Barbie Gets A Limited Brain Computer Chip Lets Kids Program Doll With Phrases - As Long As They’re Perky

Sun., July 20, 1997

Barbie has a car, a house and a pony, all the things someone so plastic could want.

Now she’s finally getting a brain.

Equipped with a computer chip, Mattel’s Talk With Me Barbie will be able to chat about dozens of subjects and call children by name. Using a CD-ROM that comes with the doll, kids can program different conversations, from dream dates to career choices.

Barbie can even wish a young girl happy birthday, but stops short of blowing out the candles.

The doll, due in stores Nov. 1 and expected to sell for $89, is the biggest Barbie breakthrough since Totally Hair Barbie (the most popular of the line with 100 million sold). Not only does the talking Barbie expound upon subjects of interest to young girls, but her mouth moves in sync with the words.

Previous talking Barbies were programmed with four or five sayings, their lips remaining in frozen plastic smiles.

Talk With Me Barbie comes with a doll, CD-ROM and a Barbie-size computer station. Once the software is installed, children can enter their names, favorite colors, number of siblings, names of pets and other basic information.

A series of menus will guide players through topics they’d like Barbie to discuss, including careers, shopping, dating or parties.

No, you won’t see Philosophy Barbie or Quantum Mechanics Barbie. Despite the advance in technology, Barbie remains a simple, remarkably perky woman.

‘We’re still aimed at the young-girl market, so we can’t make Barbie too sophisticated,” McKendall said. “For example, we call Barbie a pet doctor because most kids have no idea what a veterinarian is.”

Once the topic decisions are made, children click a button that sends the information to Barbie’s computer station. The toy computer uses an infrared beam to fill Barbie’s pretty little head with 12 to 15 phrases based on the information provided.

Barbie talks each time the button on her back is pressed. Once the child tires of the chat, Barbie can be reprogrammed, or “brainwashed,” by the same process.

Lauren Birzens, Mattel’s product manager, says Talk With Me Barbie will “heighten the play experience” - which the doll might express as, “I’ll be lots of fun!”

Birzens said Mattel is exploring other ways Talk-With-Me technology can be used with other dolls.

Perhaps GI Joe could chat about firepower and gear ratios, or order a kid to drop and give him 20.

However, Barbie won’t be programmed to say whatever anyone wants her to say. The technology is there, Birzens said, but it wouldn’t be worth the ramifications.

Such Barbies might utter sentences rarely heard outside a bar filled with drunken sailors. Someone with mischief in mind might have Barbie proposition Barney the Dinosaur.

“Barbie is a positive figure, and we’re making sure she stays that way,” Birzens said.

Tags: Toy

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