Alexa and Big Brother Settling in for a Long Stay
Big Brother entered American residences and settled in for a long stay.
Unlike Americans invited Big Brother in, though yes under a ruse. But worse, many have paid for Big Brother to enter. And the new guests seems friendly enough, but just wait.
What I’m talking about is Alexa. So perhaps Big Brother is Big Sister. But either way, one Big is just as sinister as the other.
As a woman in Portland Oregon talked to her husband, Alexa instead sent the message to an employee at her husband’s employee in Seattle, WA.
Alexa, an Amazon product, operates using cloud-computing services through the Echo Dot. The Echo Dot records the commands given by a user, sends it to cloud-computing services, which then interprets what the user needs whether it’s ordering pizza, an Uber, or turning off the lights. And as one woman found out, Alexa can send emails for you.
In this case, the device recorded a conversation between husband and wife. In the conversation, Alexa interpreted her name, and initiated the “send message” routine.
When Alexa asked who was to receive the email, a background conversation apparently pinpointed the name of someone on the family’s contact list. That person happened to be the employee.
The mistake was discovered by the employee who received the email and advised the woman she might want to turn off her device because she was being hacked.
Well she wasn’t hacked. Unless you count the fact that Amazon’s Alexa will hack itself.
An Amazon spokesperson claimed it was an unlikely string of events that caused this to happen, and that the company is working to make sure it does not happen again.
How so? By reinventing the human language?
Ever misheard something said by a friend? Well if it can happen to humans, it can certainly happen to rudimentary artificial intelligence machines.
Like Humpty Dumpty who took a great fall, this is a situation that cannot be pieced together again. Conversations between a husband and a wife are so sacred and inviolate that they are protected in law. In fact, if you watch enough Hollywood court or cop dramas, you know a husband or wife cannot be made to testify against the other in court.
Consider how many conversations you have had with a spouse or significant other in your home that you would not want emailed to an employee or coworker? Well, if you have an Alexa in your house, don’t blow off steam, unless you want it blown back at you.
Alexa isn’t the only device that can email your “dirty”. Add Siri and Cortana to the mix to understand that Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are data mining millions of customers who willingly cast aside their privacy so a computer can turn off their lights or order pizza. And they are complicit with the Federal government, just like Facebook and Twitter.
Yes, they are watching you.
In “1984” George Orwell offered a dystopian future where “Big Brother watches its citizens; telescreens watched the people.
In the future that now represents our present, citizens are watched by integrated cameras that are in our computers, our game devices, our cellphones, our cars, on the street, in buildings, and even in our doorbells. We voluntarily use them all.
The incident with the Portland woman is only the beginning. As AI improves, Alexa and devices like it will be put to a real purpose. Alexa, et al won’t accidentally send emails, but instead do so on command. And not necessarily the owners’ commands.