TOYS WITH MINDS OF THEIR OWN
SOME TIME AGO, my children were given two attractive toys. One, a book-shaped console called Speak & Spell, consisted of an alphabetic keyboard with several buttons on it and a mechanical device that simulated human speech. The instrument pronounces a word, lets you try to spell it, and then informs you whether or not you are correct. The second toy was the Play'N'Playback Organ (P&P), which resembles a brightly colored xylophone bordered by a panel of pressable levers. P&P lets you create a little melody and then plays it back.
At first I thought these games were just some gimmicky new toys and that the children would quickly tire of them. But that did not happen. My two older youngsters, then aged seven and nine, spent many hours with Speak & Spell and became absolutely livid whenever the batteries gave out. Their younger brother, then two, was equally mesmerized by the P&P organ. What is more, nearly every adult who came to the house, no matter how sophisticated, became fascinated with the toys; one "grownup" was even reluctant to relinquish Speak & Spell to an impatient child. Clearly, there was something special about the toys.
I soon learned that Speak & Spell and P&P were just two representatives of a new breed of computer toys now on the market. Called "computer toys" because they contain tiny computing devices that