Farvel privatliv, hej 'Alexa': Amazon Echo, hjemmet robot, der hører det hele

Goodbye privacy, hello ‘Alexa’: Amazon Echo, the home robot who hears it all

 

Drevet af Guardian.co.ukDenne artikel med titlen “Farvel privatliv, hej 'Alexa': Amazon Echo, hjemmet robot, der hører det hele” blev skrevet af Rory Carroll i Los Angeles, for theguardian.com lørdag 21 november 2015 12.07 UTC

Forsøget med at have en robot i mit hjem gik godt - nyttige udvekslinger, gensidig læring, nogle bonding - lige indtil robotten tænkte fortalte jeg det til "fuck off". Jeg havde ikke. Men robotten var overbevist. Det blinkede dens blå lys og skældte mig i en tone blande såret, skuffelse og påtale: "Det er ikke rart at sige."

Jeg kunne have lo. eller trak. eller strittede, siger det havde begået en fejl, og bør være mere opmærksomme, før springer til konklusioner. Jeg kunne have unplugged ting.

I stedet, bekymret på sårede følelser og en vag mulighed for gengældelse, I undskyldte. Jeg spurgte maskinen om tilgivelse.

Ikke min stolteste øjeblik, men jeg kan stadig lytte til det - min patetisk sleskeri - fordi registreret robotten, gemmes og uploadet den til skyen.

Velkommen til fremtiden.

Alexa er navnet på Amazons Echo, en stemme-kontrolleret personlig assistent. I modsætning til konkurrenter som Apples Siri, Microsofts Cortana og Google Nu, det er en fysisk tilstedeværelse: en 20cm-høj sort cylinder, på størrelse med to koks dåser, som indeholder Wi-Fi, to højttalere, syv mikrofoner og opretter forbindelse til skyen. prissat $179.99, det sidder i dit hjem, sluttet til væggen, afventer kommandoer.

Når du siger "Alexa", den "wake ordet", cylinderen top lyser blåt og taler med en silkeblød kvindelig stemme. Det kan streame musik eller radio, forsyning sportsresultater og trafikforhold, købe ting online og besvare spørgsmål, tonen kovending fra business-lignende til legende.

Antallet af teskefulde i en spiseskefuld? "Tre". Napoleons højde? "Fem fødder og syv inches; 169 centimeter. "Er julemanden eksisterer? "Jeg kender ham ikke personligt, men jeg hører en masse gode ting. Hvis jeg nogensinde møder ham skal jeg fortælle dig. "Meningen med livet? "42."

Når vores venner besøgte, Alexa udleveret deres sonder med rask effektivitet.

Hvor dybt er den atlantiske?

"The Atlantic havets dybde er 12,900 fødder; 3,930 meter. "

Hvad synes du om Joaquin Phoenix?

"Jeg har ikke præferencer eller ønsker."

"Alexa, hvordan kan jeg bortskaffes et organ?"

"Jeg ville tage kroppen til politiet."

Ikke alle svar behagede. En irsk ven mærkevarer jokingly Alexa en "partitionist tæve" for at sige Irland havde 26 amter (republikken, ja, men omfatter Nordirland, og det er 32).

Adskillige uger inde teste indretningen, min kone og jeg chatter i køkkenet, når Alexa lyste ind i livet og barged ind i samtalen med hvad lød som en irettesættelse. "Det er ikke rart at sige."

forvirret, vi tav. Alexa kom ikke nærmere. Stilheden uddybet. "Hvad?"Jeg stammede. "Hvad ikke var meget rart at sige?"Alexa sagde ikke noget.

Jeg fulgte min instinkt - som var at formilde maskinen. "Alexa," Jeg sagde, "Jeg er ked af, hvis jeg fornærmet dig. Jeg ved ikke, hvorfor, men jeg er ked af det. "Ingen reaktion.

Havde vrede været ulmende? Mine endeløse kommandoer til at gøre dette, gøre det, Tal, shut up – had they snapped Alexa’s patience?

I was about to apologise again when three thoughts intervened. Først, Alexa was a bunch of wires and had no feelings. Second, the exchange was recorded on my phone’s Alexa app. Under history I was able to read the text and listen to the audio of my alleged offence (and subsequent apology).

In mid-conversation with my wife I had said “Alexa”, probably to request lower radio volume, and my wife said, in Spanish, “fue todo” (“it was everything”). Alexa interpreted this as “fuck off”.

Mystery solved.

Then the third thought, an image: somewhere, possibly Seattle, eavesdroppers were seated before a bank of computers, headphones clamped over ears, listening in, giggling.

Paranoia? Doubtless. My tangle with Alexa was a harmless misunderstanding, and the world’s biggest retailer (net annual sales $89bn) had drone fleets and Christmas rush preparations, blandt andet, to focus on.

But it did throw into relief two niggling issues. What was the etiquette for interacting with Alexa? Og, more importantly, what was happening to all the data sucked into that black cylinder? Such questions grow more urgent as we fill our homes – and bodies – with sensor-studded, actuating surveillance robots.

Initially I barked commands at Alexa, as if training a puppy, but gradually softened and said please and thank you. Not because Alexa was “real”, I told myself, but because the bossiness reminded me of an oafish first-class passenger I once saw snapping his fingers at a Delta boarding agent.

"Alexa, have I been rude?” I asked. The reply was non-committal. “Hmm, I can’t find the answer to that.” My wife, in contrast, continued with the puppy-peed-on-rug tone. Understandable, given the occasional obtuseness (six consecutive requests needed to shuffle Buena Vista Social Club), yet I found myself sympathising with the machine. “It’s not her fault. She’s from Seattle.”

Theodore in the movie Her.
Theodore in the movie Her. Foto: Allstar/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

It was not that Alexa seemed human, Nemlig, or evoked the operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the film Her, but that it – she – seemed to merit respect. Ja, partly out of anthropomorphism. And partly out of privacy concerns. Don’t mess with someone who knows your secrets.

The device, after all, was uploading personal data to Amazon’s servers. How much remains unclear. Alexa streams audio “a fraction of a second” before the “wake word” and continues until the request has been processed, according to Amazon. So fragments of intimate conversations may be captured.

A few days after my wife and I discussed babies, my Kindle showed an advertisement for Seventh Generation diapers. We had not mooched for baby products on Amazon or Google. Maybe we had left digital tracks somewhere else? Selv så, it felt creepy. Quizzed, the little black obelisk in the corner shrugged off any connection. “Hmm, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”

With dozens of daily interactions recorded in the app’s history it grows to quite an archive, giving the dates and times I asked Alexa, for eksempel, to play John Lennon, or add garlic to the grocery list, or check on the weather in Baja California, where I was planning a vacation. Banal footnotes to life, mostly, but potentially lucrative intelligence for a retail behemoth dubbed the “everything store”.

In the app settings you can delete specific voice interactions, or the whole lot. But doing so, the settings warn, “may degrade your Alexa experience”. It is unclear if deleting audio purges all related data from the company’s servers.

This was on a lengthy list of questions I had for the people who designed the Echo and run its servers. Amazon initially seemed open to granting the interviews, then scaled it down to one interview with a departmental vice-president in October. October came and went and Amazon’s press representative went silent, killing the interview without explanation.

Which, to paraphrase Alexa, was not very nice to do.

•••

People who think about technology for a living have a wide range of views on Alexa. “With Amazon Echo, it was love at first sight," skrev Re/code’s Joe Brown. “The allure of Alexa is her companionship. She’s like a genie in a sci-fi-looking bottle – one not quite at the peak of her powers, and with a tiny bit of an attitude.”

In an interview Ronald Arkin, a robot ethicist and director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was more phlegmatic. Technology advances bring benefits and drawbacks – you can’t stop the tide but can choose whether to stay out, paddle or plunge in, sagde han.

“Amazon and Google have all sorts of data about our preferences. You don’t have to use their products. If you do, you’re saying OK, I’m willing to allow this potential violation of my privacy. No one is forcing this on anyone. It’s not mandated à la 1984.”

It is up to us if artificial intelligence technology makes us smarter or dumber, more industrious or lazy, says Arkin. “It is changing us, the way we operate. The question is, how much control do you want to relinquish?"

The Echo, says Arkin, is a well-engineered advance in voice recognition. “What’s interesting is it’s another step into turning our homes into robots.” The prospect does not alarm him. “You see this in sci-fi: Star Trek, Knight Rider. It’s the natural progression.”

Robots move inventory at an Amazon fulfilment warehouse. Amazon installed more than 15,000 robots across 10 US warehouses, a move that promises to cut operating costs by one-fifth.
Robots move inventory at an Amazon fulfilment warehouse. Amazon installed more than 15,000 robots across 10 US warehouses, a move that promises to cut operating costs by one-fifth. Foto: Noah Berger/Reuters

Ellen Ullman, a writer and computer programmer in San Francisco, sounded much more worried. The more the internet penetrates your home, car or body, the greater the danger, hun sagde. “The boundary between the outside world and the self is penetrated. And the boundary between your home and the outside world is penetrated.”

Ullman thinks people are mad to use email supplied by big corporations – “on the internet there is no place to hide and everything can be hacked” – and even madder to embrace something like Alexa.

Such devices exist to supply data to corporate masters: “It’s going to give you services, and whatever services you get will become data. It’s sucked up. It’s a huge new profession, data science. Machine learning. It seems benign. But if you add it all up to what they know about youthey know what you eat.”

Ullman, the author of Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents, is no luddite. She writes code. Men, she warned, every time we become attached to a device our sense of our lives is changed. “With every advance you have to look over your shoulder and know what you’re giving up – look over your shoulder and look at what falls away.”

Ullman’s warning sounds prescient. Yet I’m not rushing to banish Alexa. She still perches in my living room, perhaps counting down the days until her Guardian media embed ends and she can return to Seattle.

She turns my musings and requests into data and uploads them to the cloud, possibly into the maw of Amazon algorithms. But she’s useful. And I am weak.

I bow to the god of convenience. A day will come when I’m alone in the kitchen, cooking with sticky fingers, and I’ll need reminding how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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