/ Technology

Amazon Echo – fad or the future?

Amazon Echo Home

It’s a sci-fi fan’s dream, isn’t it? Having a computer than can talk and do things seemingly beyond the power of its small microchip within – like a flatmate without the extra mess.

But artificial intelligence is a topic that has repeatedly struck fear into audiences, me included. Portrayed as close to human – be that in appearance or in behaviour – but still quite obviously inhuman, it often falls into the so-called ‘uncanny valley’, within which the near-human likeness gives an eerie sense of trepidation.

What is the Amazon Echo?

Alexa – the name of Amazon’s ‘assistant’ within their new Echo product – is of course still a long way from HAL 9000, the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it seems to be a tentative step towards complete home automation.

Much like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, Alexa can respond to simple questions – ‘Alexa, what time is it?’ and ‘Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?’, for instance. But as well as being a voice-activated Bluetooth speaker, if you also buy compatible light bulbs and plug adaptors, you can turn things on and off by simply asking Alexa to do it. It (or is Alexa a ‘she’?) can also order you a taxi and even a takeaway.

A ‘smarter’ home

Over recent years, smart home technology has become more and more common. From smart locks to smart fridges (and even smart clothes pegs), there’s a never ending list of gadgets and gizmos intended to make home life easier.

For me, I think the novelty of turning on and off the lights with my voice would wear off fairly quickly. However, customer reviews from the US have indicated that the Amazon Echo has been great for disabled relatives, who may have otherwise struggled with the dexterity required for the buttons and dials now needed around the modern home.

It seems, however, that the same concerns surround these products, namely security and privacy.

Amazon insists that the Echo doesn’t record any conversations and is only activated once it hears the word ‘Alexa’. Any question not preceded with the ‘Alexa’ will fall on deaf ears. It’s also important to note that, to our knowledge, no breaches of privacy have been reported since its release in the States.

I’ve grown up in a generation who are lackadaisical with personal data. Whether it’s where I was yesterday evening logged on my maps app or companies using cookies to track when I visit their websites.

Many with a similar attitude to me will not be too fussed about having Alexa in their home. But there’s no doubt that a technology that’s ‘always listening’ will unnerve some customers.

So what do you think to the Echo? Will you be making your home smarter?

Comments
Member

Apple’s doing the same with a combination of Siri and their Homekit. Looks promising and we’re still a way off from anything remotely approaching true AI, yet. Still, quite fancy being able to call for a cuppa and have it delivered to the arm chair. Just hope it remembers to put the milk in first…

Member

I have something at home that runs on food, water and love and he brings be a cuppa (sometimes forgets to put a wee bit sugar in) when I call for him. Vice versa. :o)

Member

I do use home automation to a fair extent, but nothing, thus far, remotely. The bed is heated automatically dependent on the weather conditions, lights turn on and off at a gesture and we can turn the Air con on or off from anywhere in the house. But the software is still pretty stupid. Everything has to be programmed one way or another, and even Siri is so limited that to talk of AI is laughable. But it still makes life easier, I suppose, and for me, anyway, the only concern is that if I were to use the remote features I could never be totally happy that the system hadn’t decided to incinerate the cat. Although that would take the guesswork out of supper that night.

Member

Meowch. These things are all very well, but do we really need them? What in domestic life, at present, needs automating more than it already is? If this technology leads to useful advances that save energy, help the disabled or produce products that serve a genuine purpose rather than the niche market, then this research is good because it leads to a better life. I’d rather see the development of batteries that give true portable power and don’t need hours to recharge; the development of the hydrogen cell for domestic use; safe banking and stress free transport. Technological research needs to have a purpose and an application. Steam was seen to be useful in many fields as was electricity, various new building materials etc, etc. Invented because the need was there to be satisfied. By all means dream of the future but let there be some purpose in those dreams.

Member

There is another side to this and that is all of those voice transmissions through the web are being gathered as we speak in the US to use in an addition to the FBI/CIA data base for criminal/terrorist / and even scrutiny of the public , and –yes – as you though some ingenious hacker has hacked it already as well as using your mike + camera +, other hardware as Bots in attacking websites in DDoS attacks thats how Krebs was taken out. Nearly 1TG worth of attacks .

Member

Initial (kneejerk) reaction to the convo subject: “Alexa, do I have a brain? Alexa, can I get up off my a**e and do things for myself?”.

Second reaction, what a fantastic thing for some disabilities, a life changer!

Third, starter for 10: define intelligence.

Member

Leave the tricky one for last, eh? 🙂

Member

The ability to understand /reason /and arrive at a logical/practical solution.