Amazon unveiled its new digital assistant the “Echo” this week, a cloud-connected device that is “always on.”
Controlled by a user’s voice, Amazon boasts the device’s ability to answer questions, provide weather updates, and play music.
“Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It’s always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more,” Amazon states. “Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, ‘Alexa.’ It’s also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound.”
Using “far-field voice recognition,” the Echo can detect and analyze voices even when other loud noises are prevalent.
“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.”
Echo’s constant connection to the cloud allows it to learn and adapt, slowly gathering the specifics of a user’s characteristics.
“Echo’s brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time. The more you use Echo, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.”
While the Echo is always activated, Amazon assures its customers that “Alexa” will only listen when a user asks.
Given Amazon’s history of selling privacy-invading devices, such as the company’s “Fire Phone,” the safety of any collected personal information is in question, especially in light of recent news surrounding cloud security.
Unfortunately, the push towards cloud computing and “smart” tech has long ignored these important social and security implications.
During a 2012 speech, former CIA Director David Petraeus openly applauded the growing implementation of such technology due to its ability to give spy agencies unmitigated access to personal information.
“Transformational is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies, particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft,” Petraeus said. “Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.”
Earlier this month, Samsung announced the launch of its new line of “Smart TVs,” which will admittedly record a user’s personal conversations before transmitting them to third parties.
Even the most mundane of home appliances, including dishwashers, ovens , light bulbs and refrigerators, are now being equipped with WiFi and voice recognition capabilities, giving hackers, governments and corporations virtually unfettered access to every detail of a person’s life.