I just got an Amazon Echo. It is both amazing and frustrating experience. The amazing part is how quick response when it actually knows the answer. It is like talking to a person. The frustrating part is that it doesn’t know the answer to many questions.
I think up until now, all the computing devices that I have had in my possession were ones that I imagined before they were actually created. My experience with personal computers dates back to the 70s. I played around with various tablets in the 80s. By the mid-90s, I understood that we would have mobile computers in our pockets that would be connected via wireless communications. Intelligent TV set-top boxes were something that I actually worked on in the early 90s. But I never imagine there would be a device in my home whose only purpose was to listen to my voice and connect me to some kind of intelligence in the cloud that would then answer my queries. So far the most useful thing I have found is the ability to ask how something is spelled. The Echo, in this case, has put my wife out of a job.
If you don’t know how a device like the Echo works, let me explain it a bit. Basically, it’s a microphone that’s listening to everything. However, it only activates when it recognizes its name. This is similar to Siri on the iPhone and iPad. Google and Apple are bringing out comparable products. Once you wake up the device by speaking its name, you can ask it to do various things. Some of those things are just collecting information from the Internet which it will then speak to you while other functions have to do with managing features of a Smart Home if you have one.
Now we have devices in your home that are listening to everything that we are saying and are intelligent enough to understand much of what we saying, is easy to imagine how this could be abused. For example, Google could use this information to collect knowledge about what it is that you’re thinking about buying and then to use that information when serving ads. It is also possible that such devices could be hacked. Perhaps a hacker including The NSA now has the ability to listen to my conversations in the privacy of my home. This caused me to realize that the cameras that I use for security at my home are not only looking at my home 24 hours a day but also listening to what is being said. Several of the cameras I use are from Google (Nest). I guess I’m a pretty trusting guy.