Turning Technology Into Toys
Computer Chips Are Changing the Way We Play
By Jack Smith
Dec. 22 — A revolution is under way as toy makers increasingly link their products to the home computer.

     After less than a year in the lab, many toys like the Lego Mindstorms robot kit are already in stores. These modern Legos don’t just lock together, they allow kids to use their computer to program a Lego robot to do everything from shuffle cards to play bumper cars. 
     Lego isn’t the only toy to dip into technology. Barbie now has a digital camera that downloads into the family PC so scrapbooks or postcards can be edited. “Smart” stuffed animals can be programmed from the PC to do what you want, and even to know who you are. There’s even software that lets kids use the Internet to play board games with friends a thousand miles away. 
     Rand Potter of Intel — the world’s largest computer chip maker — is playing Santa Claus these days. He figures out ways to use those chips in toys “so that you have the intelligence of the PC to make your toy seem a lot smarter than it might otherwise be.” 
     And the future? Toys will not only behave more like humans, they’ll have the added advantage of the Internet. “Try to imagine what it might be like if something like a soccer ball kept score and sent the scores to the grandparents, or a teddy bear transmitted a hug across the world. Those things are possible,” says Mike Hawley of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
     And they probably will happen. Maybe even next year. 
Wired Babies
Jessica Barton turned 1 this month, but she’s already spent more hours in front of a computer than many Americans have in a lifetime. 
     How young is too young for a baby to be put in front of a computer? Child psychologist Will Staso says there is no age limit. He even backs this company’s claim that its software, Babywow, makes kids smarter. 
     Babywow displays words and plays sounds in several languages. “These are sounds that a child can’t hear in a normal 

ABCNEWS' Gina Smith on babies and computers.
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environment,” says Staso. “Presenting infants with information that can expand their knowledge base can have a positive effect on their developing intelligence.” 
     Other experts are skeptical. Child psychologist Robert Butterworth worries that software might tempt overeager parents into pushing their babies too far. “The research shows children will learn at their own pace. They know when they’re overloaded; they look away and then they go on to something else,” he argues. 
     Because many parents attach so much importance to the computer, they might pressure the child to keep at it — “and push the child to the point that we could start raising neurotic babies,” he adds. 
     Psychologists on both sides agree that as long as the experience is pressure free, and parents watch carefully for signs of frustration, computers can be entertaining and stimulating for babies.
— Gina Smith

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