The rise of smart digital assistants has brought with it all the science fiction convenience of immortal robots that take things out of context with the awesome power of being able to package that information up and send it to random people.
That wasn’t necessarily the plan when companies like Apple, Google and Amazon gave their products what we assume is either vastly complex programming or a trapped human soul screaming for eternity, but it’s what we’ve gotten. More specifically, it’s what one couple in Portland, Oregon, discovered.
The problem with having a voice operated piece of tech is that its constantly listening in case you want to bellow a command at it. And thus when one couple were having a perfectly natural conversation about getting their flooring done, their wide-ranging chat somehow managed to use whatever the Alexa voice commands were for “turn on”, “record the next bit” and “send it to some guy in our contact list”.
Which is why they recieved a phone call from a baffled employee who thought they should know that they’d received a voice recording via their Amazon device.
“He proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,At first, my husband was, like, ‘No, you didn’t!’” the anonymous female half of the affected couple told Seattle’s KIRO 7 news. “And the [recipient of the message] said, ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘Oh, gosh, you really did hear us.’ ”
For their part, Amazon told the station “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”
And that’s the problem with internet security and voice activation: there’s no easy way to make something that’s actually usable by a public with wide ranging accents and varying levels of elocution that doesn’t also make these sorts of mistakes – we’ve previously mentioned the study “Cocaine Noodles: Exploiting the Gap between Human and Machine Speech Recognition.“, named for a phrase that accidentally activates Google’s assistant.
(Incidentally, a quick experiment with the iPhone next to the computer this was typed on proved that Siri hears it as “cooking noodles” in any case, despite the writer having a resonant, booming voice).
But that’s all a distraction from the real issue: now the robots know our flooring secrets, what will they do with this information? Can any of us walk indoors in safety? Only time, and possibly voice-operated technology gone rogue, will tell…