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Why does all the best technology end up in toys?
November 14, 2014
When Boston Dynamics recently released a video of its Atlas Robot doing the “crane stance” from Karate Kid, I, like many others, had a mixed reaction. I was part amazed – I had never seen a robot balance like that on one foot before; part unimpressed – It didn’t even attempt the kick; and part bemused – other than for taking over the world Terminator style, what is its application? Science and engineering are advancing at such a phenomenal rate that real world applications for new technological abilities seem to come quite a long way after the original invention. However there is one area where the latest technology always seems to end up… toys. I often wonder if it is an in-joke amongst the world’s top research labs? -
“Well done Mr Wright, you have invented a silicon polymer, that defies our thinking about how solid objects perform, but you were meant to be inventing a rubber substitute … how exactly will we make any money from this”
“We could sell it as a toy?”
The above conversation was what I imagined to have occurred at the GE labs in Connecticut in 1943 when Silly Putty was first ‘invented’. I imagine there was a similar conversation between Richard James and his wife Betty when he ‘invented’ the slinky spring, and with Noah McVicker and his boss when he ‘invented’ play-doh.
Toys seem to be leading the way when it comes to finding real world applications for new technologies in the home, toys that read your brain waves have been around for a while, the Xbox One is probably the most powerful computer in most peoples houses and is mostly used for Minecraft, Furbies was one of the first mainstream applications of audio watermarking, even My Friend Cayla beat Amazon’s Echo to the “ask me a question” in-home device. So why do toys aimed at kids seem to get, what appears to be, first dibs on the latest piece of technology? I think Arthur C Clark’s quote could shed some light onto the question
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Kids still believe in magic, they are yet to become cynical and question something’s reason for being. They accept technology and are not restricted and burdened by how things are ‘meant to work’. If I were an inventor and created a new thing, nothing would please me more than to have it adopted by the toy industry. To see a child play with it just for the satisfaction of engaging with something magical would be the best reward I could ask for… that and it appearing in Toy Story.