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All that doll talk has always been a kind of party trick, executed with hidden record players, cassette tapes or digital chips.But in the past five years, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and speech recognition have given the devices around us — smartphones, computers, cars — the ability to engage in something approaching conversation, by listening to users and generating intelligent responses to their queries.A woman and a girl entered and sat down in plump papasan chairs, facing a low table that was partly covered by a pink tarp.The wall opposite them was mirrored from floor to ceiling, and behind it, unseen in a darkened room, a half-dozen employees of the toy company Mattel sat watching through one-way glass.The girl, who looked about 7, wore a turquoise sweatshirt and had her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.
‘‘You are going to have a chance to play with a brand-new toy,’’ she told the girl, who leaned forward with her hands on her knees. Inventors in the mid-1800s, deploying bellows in place of human lungs and reeds to simulate vocal cords, managed to get dolls to say short words like ‘‘papa.’’ Thomas Edison’s first idea for commercializing his new phonograph invention was ‘‘to make Dolls speak sing cry,’’ as he wrote in a notebook entry in 1877.
Speech-recognition software would then convert the audio signal into a text file, which would be analyzed.
The correct response would be chosen from thousands of lines scripted by Toy Talk and Mattel writers and pushed to Hello Barbie for playback — all in less than a second.‘‘Barbie, what is your full name?
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