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Smart Toys

What are smart toys and why do they matter?

Children today are surrounded by artificial intelligence (AI) technology almost everywhere. It recommends videos and music for them, evaluates them when using education technology, and makes their toys more engaging and interactive.

AI is the future of computer science and attempts to replicate human thinking and problem-solving using data. It's transforming manufacturing, banking, transportation, healthcare, and childhood.

Smart toys are simply toys that use AI in some way. Common examples include smart dolls and companions that speak with children or use facial recognition to recognize them, robotic toys that can be built and programmed by children, and smart speakers that children interact with. These smart toys use AI to interpret data and interact with the child user.

As the technology accelerates, AI will become more common in toys and more affordable and accessible. During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have been eager to find educational toys and technology to support their children who are learning from home.

As more and more toys use AI, they pose a profound potential impact on children – positive or negative. It’s up to us to ensure that AI has a positive impact on children and childhood.

Governance for Smart Toys

The case for AI governance

As a technology, AI is neutral and neither positive nor negative. The impact of the technology depends on how humans design, develop, and deploy it.

While numerous examples of biased or discriminatory AI have occurred in the past few years, its potential positive impact in the future is vast.

When children use smart toys, they’re exposed to many potential risks. Their data may not be protected, inadequate cybersecurity may make their toy vulnerable to hacking, a biased algorithm may discriminate against certain types of children, or the AI model may not be explainable and pose a “black box” that parents and children cannot understand.

Despite these risks, responsible designers are developing safe and responsible AI that can be beneficial for users and in which potential benefits outweigh risks.

Since children are particularly vulnerable to these risks, responsible governance for smart toys is critical. The Smart Toy Awards have established governance guidelines for assessing smart toys, which companies can employ to responsibly design, develop, and deploy AI for children in the future.

The Smart Toy Awards

Shaping the Future of Childhood

We believe AI presents enormous promise for the future of play and childhood. Toys are meant to be played with by children but must also be evaluated to determine how well they protect child users. We’re excited to recognize toy companies that develop ethical and responsible toys that use AI to create an innovative play experience for children.

Toy companies that carefully work with technologists to develop AI that protects and respects children and their rights are the future of play and childhood. When the potential benefits and risks of using AI are carefully balanced and AI is responsibly developed, we believe that smart toys can have a positive impact on children.

With the Smart Toy Awards, we celebrate ethically and responsibly designed toys and spread awareness among parents, guardians, educators, children, and youth about smart toys and the importance of smart toy governance.

All submissions will be assessed on four core governance criteria:
- Data privacy and cybersecurity: How does the toy protect children and other users data privacy and cybersecurity?
- Accessibility: How is the toy accessible for children with physical, mental, and learning disabilities, including neurodiversity, and children speaking languages other than English and from other cultures?

- Use of AI and transparency: How does the toy innovatively use AI and how do the benefits of its use outweigh potential risks? How is the use of AI communicated to the child user and their parents/guardians?
- Age appropriateness and healthy play: How is the toy age appropriate and how does it promote healthy play and child development?

All toy companies that win an award will be required to post an AI ethics or governance statement on their website that addresses the ethics, safety, security, responsibility, and governance of the AI being used in the toy. We believe that having such a statement is an important step in developing transparent, responsible, and ethical smart toys for children and youth.

The Smart Toy Awards are a non-commercial initiative. The Smart Toy Awards’ third-party judges select winners based upon governance criteria co-developed with a group of subject matter experts from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors as well as academia. To avoid any potential conflict of interest, toy companies that might be eligible to apply for the Smart Toy Awards did not directly participate in the development of these criteria. The Smart Toy Awards do not formally endorse the purchase or use of any of the toys selected for the Awards.

The World Economic Forum and the Generation AI project

Who’s driving this initiative?

The Smart Toy Awards were developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. The Forum is a non-profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland committed to improving the state of the world and promoting public-private cooperation. It hosts the Annual Meeting of global leaders in Davos and serves as a think tank and advocacy organization.

The Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, based in San Francisco, focuses on emerging technologies. The AI and Machine Learning platform aims to operationalize AI ethics and develop governance guidelines for AI's responsible design, development, and deployment.

The Generation AI project examines the impact of AI technology on children and youth. The initiative aims to leverage AI to educate and empower children and youth while protecting them from potential risks posed by the technology.

The Smart Toy Awards grew out of the Generation AI project to focus on the urgent use case of smart toys, aiming to spread awareness and help companies create more ethical, responsible, and trusted technology for children and youth.

The Generation AI project community that drives this work is comprised of committed subject matter experts from organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors as well as academia.