Mattel Pulls Aristotle Children’s Device After Privacy Concerns

Mattel’s Aristotle device was intended to be used in children’s rooms.

Mattel announced on Wednesday that it was canceling plans to bring to market a smart device called Aristotle, which was aimed at children from infancy to adolescence and was set to hit stores in 2018. The decision came after child advocacy groups, lawmakers and parents raised concerns about the impact the artificial intelligence device could have had on children’s privacy, development and well-being.

A petition asking Mattel not to release Aristotle, started in May by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Story of Stuff Project, garnered more than 15,000 signatures and argued that babies and older children shouldn’t be encouraged to form bonds with data-collecting devices.

Last month, Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, also sent a letter to Mattelin which they wrote: “This new product has the potential to raise serious privacy concerns as Mattel can build an in-depth profile of children and their family. It appears that never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child.”

Alarm bells first rang among industry insiders when Mattel unveiled Aristotle in January. The voice-activated Wi-Fi device with a companion camera was billed as a “first-of-its kind connected kids room platform” that was designed to “comfort, entertain, teach, and assist during each development state — evolving with a child as their needs change.”

“One of the things that was so striking about this device is that we had so many different concerns. First of all, when you have a device with a camera and a microphone that’s going to be in young children’s bedrooms, there is the potential to collect so much data on children that can be used and shared with advertisers and retailers,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Then there are all these child development concerns about replacing essential parenting functions with a device.”

A spokeswoman for Mattel said that the decision not to bring Aristotle to the marketplace was prompted by new leadership in the company. She said that Sven Gerjets, the company’s new chief technology officer, “conducted an extensive review of the Aristotle product and decided that it did not fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.”

Mattel’s recent announcement was met with praise. “This is a huge victory for everyone who believes that corporate profits and experimentation should never come at the expense of children’s privacy and well-being,” Mr. Golin said. “We commend Mattel for listening to the child development experts and thousands of parents who told them a child’s bedroom should be free of corporate surveillance and that essential caregiving functions should never be outsourced to robots.”

Aristotle wasn’t the first electronic device to come under fire — Mattel also was criticized when it released the Wi-Fi interactive Hello Barbie in 2015 — and it very likely won’t be the last.

James Steyer, founder and chief executive of the nonprofit organization Common Sense, noted that breaches to children’s privacy can and do happen. For instance, the game and toy manufacturer VTech experienced a breach in 2015 in which nearly five million parent accounts and six million student accounts were compromised, including names, emails, addresses, usernames and passwords.

Even though Aristotle didn’t make it to market, Mr. Steyer said he is concerned that “the next version will look more like a toy — say, placed inside a cute teddy bear — and then it will be 2018’s must-have present, followed shortly thereafter by security issues that either researchers or hackers will discover.”

Beyond the privacy concerns, Sherry Turkle, director of the M.I.T. Initiative on Technology and Self and author of “Reclaiming Conversation,” said that the progression of increasingly advanced products with humanlike capabilities can cause irreparable harm to young minds.

“The ground rules of human beinghood are laid down very early,” she said. And what she calls “intimate machines” have “changed the ground rules of how people think about personhood.”

The stakes, according to Dr. Turkle, couldn’t be higher. “This is not at all an anti-technology position. This is about a particular kind of technology, one that pretends empathy,” Dr. Turkle said. “We can’t put children in this position of pretend empathy and then expect that children will know what empathy is. Or give them pretend as-if relationships, and then think that we’ll have children who know what relationships are. It really says a lot about how far we have gone down the path of forgetting what those things are.”

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2016 media guidelines for children under 6, said he is “constantly dismayed by how much we are technologizing childhood” and believes it contributes to our dependency on digital devices.

As for the Aristotle, Dr. Christakis said: “I am not a fan. More to the point, Aristotle himself would not be. He said, among other things, ‘Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.’”

Dr. Christakis said that beginning in infancy, children need not only the warmth of human interaction but also to learn to be alone and soothe or entertain themselves — without the constant presence of a digital device.

“I’m glad that there was sufficient uproar and that this product went away, but it’s not the last time we’ll see such things.”

Connie Hawkins, Electrifying N.B.A. Forward Barred in His Prime, Dies at 75

Connie Hawkins, right, protecting the rim against Walt Frazier of the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 1973. CreditJohn Lent/Associated Press

Connie Hawkins, a high-flying basketball sensation who was molded on the playgrounds of New York and inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but whose career was unjustly derailed when the N.B.A. barred him until his prime years had passed on suspicions of involvement in a college point-shaving scandal, died on Friday. He was 75.

The Phoenix Suns confirmed the death but did not say where he died. Hawkins, who lived in the Phoenix area, joined the team when he was 27 after starring with two lesser leagues and the Harlem Globetrotters. The Associated Press said he had been in frail health and was found to have colon cancer in 2007.

Even as a playground legend, Hawkins had the jaw-dropping flash that superstars like Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving and Michael Jordan would display, turning pro basketball into a national sports spectacular.

“He was Julius before Julius, he was Elgin before Elgin, he was Michael before Michael,” the longtime college and pro coach Larry Brown once said in an ESPN documentary on Hawkins. “He was simply the greatest individual player I have ever seen.”

Hawkins, who played seven seasons in the National Basketball Association with three teams, was a four-time All-Star with the Suns and averaged more than 16 points a game. But his pro career was haunted by what ifs

The former playground phenom could dunk the ball at age 11, when he was 6 feet 2 inches. He became one of the finest players in New York City high school basketball history, starring in Brooklyn and being named a first-team all-American. Growing into a 6-foot-8-inch frame, he possessed unusually large hands and a talent for bursting through defenses before slamming down a dunk.


Hawkins during the 1972 N.B.A. All-Star Game.CreditWen Roberts/NBAE, via Getty Images

But by the time he reached the grandest stage in basketball, the N.B.A., he was at an advanced age for a rookie and recovering from knee surgery.

By then, a basketball career that had held so much potential for greatness had been damaged by the suspicions — unsubstantiated — that he had been involved in a collegiate point-shaving scandal in the early 1960s.

Recovering from the setback proved to be an enormous emotional challenge.

“It was totally devastating,” Hawkins told in 2009. “I was innocent, but no one would listen to me. Plus, coming from a poor family, no one even thought about trying to get a lawyer to fight it. We just weren’t that sophisticated.”

Other players in the league shared the view that he had been mistreated. When Hawkins was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992, Bob Lanier, the former Detroit Pistons center, who was part of that class, said Hawkins had “never got his just due,” adding, “because obviously the media wasn’t big then.”

Lanier marveled at Hawkins’s skills. Referring to Erving, he remarked how Hawkins “was doing these wild, swooping kind of moves before anyone knew about Dr. J.”

Hawkins had been recruited by numerous colleges before enrolling at the University of Iowa in 1961. But he never a played a game there.

College basketball at the time was engulfed in its second point-shaving scandal after players had received money from gamblers to affect the final score of games. Hawkins was questioned by the New York City authorities about possible connections with one of the fixers, but he was never accused of wrongdoing. Nonetheless, he was barred from collegiate play and the N.B.A.


Connie Hawkins, left, in 1997 at the American Basketball Association’s 30th reunion in Indianapolis. With him, from left, are Marvin Barnes, Julius Erving, Charlie Scott and George Gervin. CreditTom Russo/Associated Press

Hawkins played one season in the American Basketball League and two seasons with the Globetrotters and was a star in his two seasons in the American Basketball Association, which later merged with the N.B.A.

Hawkins’s path to the N.B.A. was buoyed in part by a 1969 article in Life magazine by David Wolf. “Evidence recently uncovered,” Mr. Wolf wrote, “indicates that Connie Hawkins never knowingly associated with gamblers, that he never introduced a player to a fixer, and that the only damaging statements about his involvement were made by Hawkins himself — as a terrified, semiliterate teenager who thought he’d go to jail unless he said what the D.A.’s detectives pressed him to say.”

On Hawkins’s behalf, Roslyn Litman, a civil liberties activist, along with her husband and law partner, S. David Litman, and another lawyer, Howard Specter, sued the N.B.A. on antitrust grounds, arguing that the league had in effect illegally barred Hawkins and deprived him of the “opportunity to earn a livelihood.”

They won. The league paid Hawkins a settlement of nearly $1.3 million and dropped the ban. Hawkins joined the N.B.A. in 1969 and became an instant star with the Suns.

Mr. Wolf recounted the Hawkins case in 1972 in the book “Foul!: The Connie Hawkins Story.” Jonathan B. Segal, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said it showed “how an underprivileged black man was victimized by a fat-cat, unfeeling Establishment.”

Cornelius Hawkins was born on July 17, 1942, in Brooklyn. He was introduced to basketball as a youngster in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn by a New York City police officer, Gene Smith, who helped run recreational programs at a Y.M.C.A.

His career at Boys High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant was capped by his being named a first-team high school all-American by Parade magazine in 1960. 

“My model was Elgin Baylor,” he told The Times in 1992, recalling the forward known for his superb body control when playing with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers. “My friends and I used to sneak into the old Madison Square Garden to see him play. Before Baylor, basketball was a more stand-up-and-shoot game.”

Hawkins averaged more than 24 points a game, sixth best in the N.B.A., in his first season with the Suns, and he was named to the all-N.B.A. first team.

He put up impressive numbers for several more years, but when his skills began to erode he was traded to the Lakers early in the 1973-74 season.

The Lakers dealt him to the Atlanta Hawks before the 1975-76 season, and after one season with them he retired, having averaged 16.5 points a game in his N.B.A. career.

Hawkins later worked in recreational programs for youth in Pittsburgh and was hired by the Suns as a community ambassador in 1992.

A list of survivors was not immediately available.

When Hawkins was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he was asked about being denied an N.B.A. career for so long. He displayed no rancor.

“My attitude was that had I not played in the A.B.A., I wouldn’t have a job,” The Boston Globe quoted him as saying. “Had I not played with the Globetrotters, I would not have learned the experience and traveled around the world. Those things helped me out and gave me a different style of play once I got into the N.B.A.”

Asked whether induction gave him a sense of vindication, he responded: “My vindication was that I got into the N.B.A. and was able to play basketball. This was icing on the cake.”

Correction: October 7, 2017 
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary misstated the amount of a settlement between Hawkins and the N.B.A. It was nearly $1.3 million, not $6 million.

Cassini Is Gone. Here Are the Next Space Missions to Watch Out For.

Now that Cassini has gone out in a blaze of glory, you’re probably wondering what cosmic missions you can get excited about next. Though NASA is reviewing proposals that may include a return to Saturn to seek signs of life on ocean worlds like its moons Enceladus and Titan, other endeavors into deep space are already on the calendar. Here are a variety of space missions worth keeping tabs on over the next decade or so.

If You Want to Rendezvous on the Red Planet

An image sent from NASA’s Opportunity rover shows “Wdowiak Ridge,” on Mars. The rover will be joined by a handful of other craft in the coming years.CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech

Humanity has had a long love affair with the Red Planet. We’ve launched about 20 successful missions to study Mars since the 1960s, including the still operational Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. It’s also a source of intrigue for scientists searching for clues to where life may have once existed in the solar system.

In May 2018, NASA will launch the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, or InSight, mission. This project will drop a stationary lander on Martian soil with the goal of understanding what happened at the rocky planet’s very beginning.

“It’s a mission to map out the deep interior of Mars all the way down to the very center of the planet,” said W. Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It will take detailed geophysical measurements to determine the thickness of the planet’s core, mantle and crust.

“It’s like using a microscope instead of looking at it from across the room,” he said.

While nestled on the ground, the InSight lander will listen for seismic activity and small vibrations — marsquakes.


Engineers and technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, testing the deployment of solar arrays on the InSight lander in 2015.CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Using a burrowing device known as a heat flow probe, it will dig about 16 feet into the surface — making the deepest man-made hole on Mars — and take temperature readings. Another tool will examine the speed of Mars’ rotation and the wobble it makes as it spins along its axis, similar to the wobble in a spinning top.

Joining Curiosity and Opportunity will be the less imaginatively named Mars 2020 Rover. Planned for launch in, you guessed it, 2020, this rover will land on the planet that same year. Unlike its predecessors, this mission is intended to send samples from the Martian surface back to Earth to help with the search for evidence of ancient life on Mars.

“We are going to put these tubes down on the surface of Mars and drive away,” said Kenneth A. Farley, a geochemist from Caltech and project scientist for the Mars 2020 Rover. “Then in future missions we’ll arrive and pick them up.”

The Mars 2020 Rover is essentially part of a three-step plan to collect bits of Mars and study them on Earth, which has never been done before. The rover will collect 37 samples in test tubes that are immediately sealed. Once it has collected all of its samples it will find a spot to deposit them.

To retrieve them, the thought is that a second spacecraft will land near that site, collect the samples, put them into a rocket on its back, and launch them into space.

Finally, the hope is that a third craft will sweep across Mars and grab the basketball-sized container with the samples and blast back to Earth.

The European Space Agency and the Russian space agency are also in on the Martian land rush. In 2020 their joint venture, ExoMars will land a European rover and a Russian surface platform to Mars.

If You Want to Jet Off to Jupiter


NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will study whether the moon Europa has the basic ingredients for life.CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The Europa Clipper mission will sail past Jupiter’s icy moon Europa on some 40 to 45 flybys sometime in the 2020s. Scientists believe that Europa has an ocean of salty water beneath its crust, and the NASA mission, will help determine if the moon has the recipe for life: a splash of liquid water, a sprinkle of chemical ingredients, and an energy source that can bake up some biology.

Also eyeing Jupiter’s satellites is the E.S.A.’s JUICE mission, which stands for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, and is planned for launch in 2022. In addition to Europa, the space probe will study Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, and Callisto, which has more impact craters than any other object in the solar system.

“We want to go to Jupiter and explore its moons for two basic reasons,” said Giuseppe Sarri, the project manager for JUICE, “First to understand our solar system how it was built how it works, and second to see and understand the probability of having life outside our planet.”

JUICE will use ice-penetrating radar to peek beneath the moons’ surfaces and a laser to measure its geological features.

“We have to do this job for each of the three moons,” said Olivier Witasse the project scientist for the mission. “Maybe one will have liquid water, maybe all of them will.”

At the end of its mission JUICE will be put into orbit around Ganymede and become the first spacecraft to orbit a moon other than our own.

Scientists will also explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which consist of two giant asteroid clusters caught in the gaseous planet’s gravitational field. NASA’s Lucy mission will investigate six of these rocks in a path that takes it through both asteroid clouds. It will launch in 2021 and study these half dozen rocks from 2027 until 2033, according to NASA.

If You Don’t Want to Avoid Asteroids


A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft launching from Cape Canaveral, Fla., last year.CreditSandy Joseph and Tim Terry/NASA

Although navigating an asteroid belt isn’t nearly as precarious as it appears in movies, it’s still a calculated operation, especially if your goal is to rendezvous with one of the space rocks on its orbit around the solar system. There are three upcoming asteroid missions to be on the lookout for

Already on its way, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa-2 mission will arrive at asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018. The mission will land a small probe on the surface, as well as three hopping mini-rovers, according to NASA. After the lander drops from the Hayabusa-2 mother ship, it will collect samples. But the main goal of Hayabusa-2 is to return to Earth with those samples in December 2020, after exploring the asteroid for more than a year.

As the “2” in the name implies, this will be Japan’s second round-trip to an asteroid. The first Hayabusa launched in 2003, reached its target in 2005, and returned in 2010.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex launched on Sept. 8, 2016, and in August 2018 it will approach the asteroid Bennu, a 1,650-foot-wide, carbon-rich rock. After catching up with the asteroid, which speeds around the sun at about 63,000 miles per hour, Osiris-Rex will survey it for about a year. Then in 2020, it will perform a touch-and-go maneuver with a robotic arm to collect a sample from its surface. It will come in contact with the asteroid for only about five seconds, enough time to release a burst of nitrogen gas to rustle up sediments. It can collect up to about four pounds of samples. Then the spacecraft will leave Bennu in March 2021, arriving at Earth in 2023.

The samples will tell us about the composition of the asteroid as well as help reveal mysteries about the origin of our solar system. What also makes Bennu interesting is that NASA predicts that it has a 1 in 2,500 chance of hitting Earthtoward the end of the 22nd century.

In 2022, NASA’s Psyche mission will launch on a journey to investigate an intriguing asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. Its target, 16 Psyche, is a huge chunk of metal. Most asteroids are made of rock, but according to NASA, this one is made of metallic iron and nickel, the same material found in Earth’s core. It’s the only known object of its kind in the solar system, and it has led some scientists to guess that it may be the remnants of an early planet’s core that didn’t survive the cosmic barrages and collisions that characterized the solar system’s violent history.


An artists’s rendering of 16 Psyche, an asteroid made entirely of metal that NASA intends to investigate starting in 2022.CreditPeter Rubin/Arizona State University

If You Want to Go Beyond Our Solar System


Mirrors intended for the James Webb space telescope sitting just outside a testing chamber at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. in 2011.CreditDavid Higginbotham/NASA

Cosmic exploration is not constrained to our solar system. There are several missions aimed at observing the worlds outside our sun’s grasp, though they require powerful telescopes and satellites.

Launching in the mid 2020s, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or Wfirst, will be as powerful as the Hubble space telescope, but with a field of view that is 100 times larger. That means, according to NASA, it will potentially spot thousands of exoplanets and more than a billion galaxies during its mission. It will also try to unveil some of the mysteries behind dark energy and dark matter, the substances that make up the majority of the universe.

The Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, operated by the E.S.A., will also be searching for exoplanets. It is planned to launch in 2018 and will orbit the Earth. Its goal is to hunt for rocky planets as they pass in front of bright stars, an activity known as transiting. Similarly, E.S.A.’s Planetary transits and oscillations of stars or Plato spacecraft, will also look for transits of Earthlike planets that may reside in “goldilocks” zones in other stellar systems. It launches in 2026.

The golden-winged James Webb Space Telescope will take flight in late 2018. About seven times as large as the Hubble, it will be the most powerful space telescope ever constructed. Operated by NASA along with the E.S.A. and the Canadian Space Agency, it is an $8.8 billion endeavor to piece together the 13.7 billion-year-old puzzle of how the universe came into existence after the Big Bang.

If You Want to Soak in the Sun


Inspecting the solar array cooling system for the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in February.CreditNASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Launching in the summer of 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will become Earth’s first spacecraft to ever reach a star. It will fly within about 4 million miles of the sun’s surface, braving the brutal heat and destructive radiation of its outermost atmosphere, known as the corona. But the probe will be well-protected from the scorching environment thanks to its heat shield, a 4.5-inch-thick carbon composite wall which, according to NASA, will keep its tools at about room temperature.

The Parker Solar Probe will study the corona and investigate the solar wind, a constant gust of charged particles that streams deep into the solar system, and gather data on what causes it to accelerate.

After launch, the small-car sized craft will perform several flybys of Venus before vaulting itself toward the sun. It is expected to make its closest solar approach in December 2024.

If You Want to Meander around Mercury


Craters on Mercury.CreditNASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Compared with Mars, Venus and our own Earth, Mercury is the inner solar system’s most overlooked world. So far, only NASA’s Mariner 10 and MESSENGER missions have observed it up close. But in 2018, that will change as the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launch the BepiColombo mission to explore the tiny planet.

It is a joint venture that consists of two spacecrafts: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. After arriving at Mercury in late 2025 the pair will enter separate orbits. There, according to the E.S.A., they will both collect information about Mercury’s composition, atmosphere, magnetosphere and geophysics in order to investigate its history and provide insight into how it and the other rocky planets formed.