Inside Amazon's plan for Alexa to run your entire life
Comment of the Day

November 08 2019

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Inside Amazon's plan for Alexa to run your entire life

This article by Karen Hao for the MIT Technology Review may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In another scenario, you might ask Alexa through your communal home Echo to send you a notification if your flight is delayed. When it’s time to do so, perhaps you are already driving. Alexa needs to realize (by identifying your voice in your initial request) that you, not a roommate or family member, need the notification—and, based on the last Echo-enabled device you interacted with, that you are now in your car. Therefore, the notification should go to your car rather than your home.

This level of prediction and reasoning will also need to account for video data as more and more Alexa-compatible products include cameras. Let’s say you’re not home, Prasad muses, and a Girl Scout knocks on your door selling cookies. The Alexa on your Amazon Ring, a camera-equipped doorbell, should register (through video and audio input) who is at your door and why, know that you are not home, send you a note on a nearby Alexa device asking how many cookies you want, and order them on your behalf.

To make this possible, Prasad’s team is now testing a new software architecture for processing user commands. It involves filtering audio and visual information through many more layers. First Alexa needs to register which skill the user is trying to access among the roughly 100,000 available. Next it will have to understand the command in the context of who the user is, what device that person is using, and where. Finally it will need to refine the response on the basis of the user’s previously expressed preferences.

“This is what I believe the next few years will be about: reasoning and making it more personal, with more context,” says Prasad. “It’s like bringing everything together to make these massive decisions.”

Eoin Treacy's view

A year ago Google gave a sample of what its artificial intelligence was capable of when it made a restaurant booking for some users by phoning a restaurant and impersonating a person. The company received a great deal of backlash from the liberal media about how much data it had to collect from a person to make that kind of service available and whether the company could be trusted with the information.

Amazon’s suite of products suggests they are moving in the exact same direction but with purpose. The point of course is millions of people have already opted in by buying intelligent speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple. These devices are always listening and it just makes sense that if someone bought such a product it is because they expect it to be able to do more for them over the time.

It’s very easy to become overconsumed by the privacy implications of massive data sharing. I don’t personally own a smart speaker and I’m not planning on buying one. However, the reality is I’m not active on social media either, and yet billions of people have no issue with sharing every intimate detail of their lives with the global community; in perpetuity. Picking up every individual data point from a person’s life is enormously valuable because of the tailored services that can then be created for that person. Some will think of that as very Big Brother but I suspect there will be millions more who will love the convenience of outsourcing responsibility for what they consider trivial or annoying matters.

The evolution of a 5G network where superfast network access will put the full computing power of these AI systems at our fingertips virtually ensures these kinds of services will soon become a reality.

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