Chatterbox: Building Competence Raises Mood For Life

7 year old girl building a Chatterbox smart speaker
Chatterbox is the world's first build-it-yourself, program-it-yourself smart speaker kit designed for kids to learn about artificial intelligence. It's a cardboard box with electronics inside that works like an Amazon Echo — without the privacy violation or "black box" mystery about how it works.

Check out this Vimeo video of what it looks like and kids interacting with it: Chatterbox.

Whether you're a parent or a teacher or just an intelligent, technology-minded person concerned about what technology is doing to children, you should back the Chatterbox Kickstarter project. Here's why:

* The more kids teach Chatterbox skills — like getting the weather, playing child-friendly news, setting timers and alarms, controlling lights, sending messages to or even calling mom and dad — the more kids learn about engineering, problem solving, language construction and critical thinking.

* The computer interface of the future is voice-driven artificial intelligence. Chatterbox prepares kids for this future where a human-like AI is ubiquitous by giving kids the tools and the motivation to create and use their very own AI.

* Chatterbox is screen-free, privacy-centric and both safe and healthy for kids. Chatterbox only listens when the button is pressed. And Chatterbox doesn't gather personal data.

* Chatterbox is also low-cost and environmentally friendly. The enclosure or case is made from 100% recyclable cardboard. Chatterbox’s internal components are powered by the Raspberry Pi computer and a custom-designed Chatter expansion board for microphone and speaker functionality. All internal components are designed to be reused again and again.

* Most or all of the consumer technology in children's lives is designed for passive consumption, engineered to be addictive and distracting. Chatterbox is the opposite, and offers a replacement for laptops, tablets and phones that gives kids an internet-connected computing platform where they are incentivized to learn, adapt and problem-solve using speech technology.

It was invented by my nephew, Kevin Elgan. Here's what he says about the project:

I’ve been focusing on education technology (or technology education) for children my entire career, first at Tynker (which teaches kids to code), then Piper (which is a build-it-yourself computer for children). Since then I’ve had a daughter of my own which has led me to reevaluate the role of technology in my family’s life. Now, more than ever, I’m passionately determined to revolutionize education technology in a healthy and socially responsible way.

I’ve spent the last year creating Chatterbox to help solve the “kids and technology” problem. On the one hand, kids are becoming screen addicts at an early age. On the other hand, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are “black boxes” and kids have no idea how they work. Today’s technology is neither teaching kids how current technology works, nor preparing them to cope with future technology.

Increasingly, kids are using smart speakers as well — devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePods. According to Commonsense Media, nearly one-quarter of households now have at least one smart speaker in their homes. Today’s toddlers are the first generation to grow up without any memory of the world before artificial intelligence in the home. Kids are treating talking smart devices like people — to be listened to, treated respectfully, and even obeyed.

While kids are immersed in technology, it’s all a big mystery to them. There is a common misconception that “using” technology “teaches” kids how technology works. They’re not learning how it all works, but instead they are learning to become passive consumers in the new world of surveillance capitalism. They’re learning to focus on phones instead of on the people around them. Kids are acquiring habits that will reduce their ability to create, grow and think for themselves.

This is all wrong. Kids should spend less time with screens. And they need to understand how the technology all around them works.

That’s why I created Chatterbox, the smart speaker kids build themselves. Once they’ve built it, they teach it how to talk using a Lego-like, building-block software interface. And they can keep teaching it new skills while learning a whole lot of new skills themselves along the way.

Here’s how Chatterbox solves the problems technology is creating for kids:

1. By building Chatterbox, kids learn what smart speakers are made of
2. By teaching Chatterbox, smart speakers are de-mystified so kids understand them
3. By crafting conversations, kids learn how to communicate clearly with people
4. By using Chatterbox, kids have fun building and creating
5. By making Chatterbox their main computer, kids get their eyes off screens
6. By pressing the Chatterbox button to talk, kids get used to privacy, not surveillance
7. By exploring Chatterbox, kids learn programming concepts like intents, logic, conditionals to build voice apps
8. By re-using Chatterbox, kids learn environmental responsibility (everything is re-usable or recyclable)

Every parent and every teacher wants to prepare their kids for the future. And that future is ubiquitous voice-interaction and artificial intelligence. Chatterbox teaches them to build it, teach it, use it, control it and, above all, understand it.

If you share our belief that technology for kids should be educational, private and respectful of kids, then please join our movement. Stay up to date with Chatterbox news by subscribing to our newsletter and help us change the conversation about kids and technology.

Get more information, see videos and photos and learn how you can support this education revolution on the Chatterbox Kickstarter page!

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