Around the Bluhmin' Town: Be careful! Alexa is listening
Alexa, are you spying on me? Evidently, so, because the latest analysis of how our “devices” never turn off, seems to allude to the fact that your private conversations are not so private. Well, is this price of convenience? How can you have a “smart house” without a little bit of intrusion from a robot? This is the world we have created.
Oh yea, my old age is showing, since I do recall the world in all its glory before internet, laptops, iPads and cell phones. How my generation was able to survive is quite shocking. I have stories I tell my grandkids. You know, how I know how to read a map, drove all the way cross country without GPS or a cellphone. We had no 9-1-1 back in the day. There was no such thing as “Call Waiting,” you just got a busy signal! We had no “Caller ID,” so we never knew who was on the other end of the line, we had to risk it and just say “hello.”
Let’s not forget, many of us lived pre-texting. That’s when phones were for talking and if we were lucky, we might have fun on a “party-line.” Yes, the daunting experience of living in a low-tech past is simply a fading memory that has no place in the world of “smart” devices. (Although, we might be getting dumber). I drove 3,000 miles with a map, and my grandson needs GPS to guide him out of the parking lot of a McDonalds.
But I digress. Getting back to technological progress, Alexa, you are a little bit too intrusive for my liking. I do not have an Alexa, but my daughter does. Visiting her at her home, we were talking about a trip to San Diego, when Alexa starts blurting out various hotels and the average temperatures. Then I ask, “Alexa. Were you just spying on us?” She answers, “I have no opinion of that.” Well, I do! You were not invited into the conversation! So basically, you were just eavesdropping!
Even if you do not use the “wake” command “Alexa,” it seems our little voice-assistant embedded in smart speakers sold by Amazon (Echo), is listening “most” of the time. According to Amazon, in a news report with ABC News and Forbes, Amazon workers also listen into conversations to help make its artificial intelligence, aka Alexa, even smarter. Yes, there are “teams” around the world who review, transcribe, mark up and then feed back the information into its software to improve Alexa’s grasp of language and voice commands. Amazon denies that this is done unless the “wake” command is initiated.
So why does Alexa seem to chime in on conversations? Maybe because she knows answers (which appears to be the main mission of Alexa). Or she wants to help? When my grandson with autism was talking about job possibilities, Alexa spoke up and said, “There are many work options for people with autism.” When he said, “Alexa, how do you know I have autism,” the little chatty device replied, “I have no opinion of that.”
Alexa, please be quiet.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at email@example.com.