Amazon’s newest product is Echo. Echo’s implications are simultaneously interesting and creepy. Echo is a standalone digital assistant that responds to voice commands. Think Siri, but without the phone.
Here comes the creepy part.
Tucked under Echo’s light ring is an array of seven microphones. These sensors use beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction. With enhanced noise cancellation, Echo can hear you ask a question even while it’s playing music.
You know the scene in Casino where Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci turn on their car’s radio to keep from being heard? Not anymore!
It hears you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.”
This wouldn’t be as scary if your individual Echo kept your secrets. It does not.
Echo’s brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time.
Everything you say is going back through the Internet to Amazon’s servers. Will it be eavesdropping on your life? I think that’s Amazon’s point. We are being farmed for our data.
I’m making the point with Amazon, but Siri and Google Now are already doing most of this via your cellphone or web browser (see the example at the bottom of this page).
There’s no doubt the Internet gives us powers and abilities far beyond anything I imagined as a kid–and I had a good imagination. But there is a downside. Even if voice recognition was flawless (and it’s anything but), bad interpretation will surely cause unforeseen grief.
Those pushing this part of the technology say errors will be limited. I have no doubt. But fixing errors is expensive. Google, Facebook and others have already shown, companies would rather you didn’t know how to contact them, much less help you fix problems of their doing.
The good news is they don’t look at us as individuals. The bad news is they don’t look at us as individuals.