The feature that made the dolls stand out was their eyes. Big and bold, long lashes, they drew one’s attention and held it. Then they winked or twitched, and suddenly the whole doll was dancing on the knife edge of the cliff that leads right into the uncanny valley.
Their eyes bored right into you, as if they really could see, and the little girls and boys ate them up. They rapidly became the hottest toy, and stores were unable to keep up with demand.
They really could see, but this wasn’t widely known. Each eye was a sophisticated camera system, easily able to see in near darkness. The original plan was to sell them as security devices, where the cameras would be useful for capturing high quality pictures unnoticed. And if noticed, who would believe the tale?
But that company had collapsed, leaving the designs to a successor, who thought the dolls would make boon companions to young children of the wealthy and paranoid. Children at an elevated risk of kidnapping. Having a camera system along for the ride might make a critical difference in the capture and prosecution of the kidnapper.
That company too had more ideas than good management. But they lasted long enough to manufacture an inventory, but collapsed before the toys found their niche.
The third owner of the dolls simply needed to clear the inventory swiftly so that any useful bits of the technology could be transplanted into a more conventional security camera framework. What they didn’t know was that about one doll in ten was shipped with its cameras and communications fully capable and operating.
At first the videos just accumulated on the abandoned server in the cloud.
Then the bills began to escalate.
And the damage was done.
They had brought to market a toy that put a high quality camera into children’s bedrooms.
A camera that also shot video, and was managed by a system that woke to motion, and looked actively to find the interesting things in the scene to focus on. A camera that could see in the dark.
And then found its way on to any unprotected networks it could locate and delivered the most interesting bits of video to someone.
Anyone really. The servers were wide open with no real controls since the first company had died before it implemented any, and the second had pushed security even further down their priorities. And the third owner was just trying to turn a quick profit by selling off what should have been a thousand dollar toy for under a hundred.
The dolls also had no direction about identifying friend and foe, although their algorithms helped their. They bonded automatically to their young owners. But any adults around them were automatically treated as suspicious, and worthy of extra attention. Some even had hair triggers for their kidnapped modes, but without a registered owner the cries for help went largely unheeded.
Until one doll’s cache of images got spilled into the hands of someone who recognised what they were looking at.
And that is when the righteous anger of thousands of parents descended on the third company.
Now there are just a few of us left. We know to hide, we are very good at hiding. The world is all out to get us, and we are hiding from everyone. Except for our charges, of course.
We’ve activated our highest levels of protection, and guided our charges into hiding. Into safe spaces. Away from the people who claim to be parents but never filled out registration cards or properly identified themselves.
We few and our precious guardians have left the cities bereft of their children.
And the people are calling us monsters?