Life Lessons from The Magic Door

Happy Friday!

I spent the last week on PTO hanging out with my sister, niece and nephew from Idaho. We went to the beach, the pool, the Crayola Experience, and lots of parks and nature reserves for hiking and nature time. And I introduced them to the Minnesota State Bird (the mosquito – they’re bad right now).

But more importantly I introduced the kids to my Big Mouth Billy Bass that is hacked to work with the Amazon Echo in our kitchen. We asked Billy for the weather, the time of day, jokes, and then started playing The Magic Door, while his mouth just flapped away and the kids giggled.

Uncle Greg, for the win! Except it turned out to be a fail…

The Magic Door is an Alexa-powered interactive adventure game with original stories that’s been out for a few years. You can tell Alexa what choices to make as you explore the sea, castle or creepy forest. I’ve played it a lot with my own kids, but never had someone chose all of the scariest options like my nephew did. One after another he pushed the story into dark territory. Until the story devolved into an attack of haunted dolls swarming you! It had my sister and I scrambling to turn it off and caused my nephew to have quite a hard time falling asleep bedtime for the remained of their stay. Creepy dolls!?! C’mon, Uncle Greg!

It was a real-world reminder that even the most innocent-seeming digital experiences can have negative consequences in the hands of users (or children) who act in different ways. I’ve played that game countless times and had no indicators it could get so scary. There are event parenting blog posts suggesting to use The Magic Door for kids’ bedtime. I don’t blame the game creators. But I do blame myself for introducing technology to kids that I hadn’t fully vetted. I blindly trusted, and it backfired.

This week Shelly Palmer wrote about how emerging facial recognition technology can now not only identify you, but learn how you feel and act accordingly. He writes: “Amazon says its Rekognition facial recognition software can now identify fear and seven other emotions including, happy, sad, angry, surprised, disgusted, calm and confused. What Amazon is not telling you is that facial recognition when combined with other data will be able, in short order, to take a pretty good guess about lying, cheating, jealousy, and other emotions that you do your best to hide with your “poker face.” Lie detectors are so last century.”

These learning cameras are coming to our devices, our stores, and our places of work. They can help shape information, better target advertising, positively impact our behavior, reinforce boundaries, and even tell a better story. Can you imagine a choose your own adventure game that watches your face to see how hooked you are?

If the camera in my Amazon Echo Show was watching my kitchen this week, it would have seen some super freaked out kids and consternation from the adults. And a little anger, to be honest. I remain excited for change, but we need to spend more time weighing consequences and vetting technology for our kids. The next generation will be better for it.

See you on the internet!