REUTERS: Santa cannot sit with kids in shopping malls this year, but they can still tell him their Christmas wishlist in a video chat at home.
Technology company Storyfile has come up with an artificial intelligence alternative to the holiday tradition: an interactive website where Father Christmas answers questions as if in person.
"The database has about 180, 200 questions so they can ask him quite a lot," said Storyfile Chief Executive Heather Smith. "The No. 1 question so far is 'Am I on the naughty or nice list?', of course."
Storyfile usually records interviews on camera with notable people such as scientists, astronauts, civil rights icons and Holocaust survivors. The answers are then prompted by voice activation on an app to give an almost seamless interaction with the subject.
Storyfile staff tested the app on children before launching AskSanta.com, which is live until New Year's Eve.
"The kids so far have just been amazed," said Smith. "They really think he's on FaceTime or something like that with them, which is the point, right? They're adorable. I love all the reactions."
Santa has already fielded many questions about the pandemic.
"If a child has asked me 'Santa, is there any chance that you might come down with coronavirus?', I tell them, like anybody else, I do exactly what I'm supposed to," he said.
"I wear my gloves, I wash my hands, I social distance, I wear my mask. I just reiterate the important things that they're hearing regularly."
Depending on the response to the free app, Santa's skills may be expanded to read out children's letters next year.