A recent Bloomberg report revealed that "Alexa" isn't the only one listening to your commands. The report, which was confirmed by Amazon, states that the tech giant employs a global team of people whose job is to transcribe, annotate, and feed the information back into the software in order to improve the A.I.'s ability to understand and respond to requests.
This report has sparked a media blitz against the tech giant, leading to headlines like, "How Your Home May be 'Spying' On You" and "The Terrible Truth about Alexa," but don't be fooled. This is what we all agreed to when we hit "Accept" on the Terms of Service (and no, it doesn't matter if you didn't actually read it). We welcomed this technology into our lives because we value convenience, and that's what Amazon aims to deliver.
Is Alexa the Next 007?
Let's get one thing out of the way. Alexa is no James Bond, and its purpose is not to spy on you.
Amazon employees DO NOT record you without using the wake-up instruction. Also, you can opt-out of allowing Amazon to use your conversations to improve the software.
You may be asking, "Why should they be recording me at all?"
Well, Amazon, just like any other company, wants to make their product the best in the market and respond most effectively to your needs. Other companies record every customer service interaction that comes through their call centers. Is it really that different for Amazon to record Alexa commands in order to improve their algorithm?
Amazon uses this data to help its software learn how to better serve you. As it learns, it will begin to understand not only what you say, but also interpret your tone, intent, and so on. This will help Amazon to better position their voice technology to make your daily life easier as life continues to get harder. Out of toothpaste? It will be there by the end of the day. Running low on shampoo? Alexa will have that at your doorstep before your next shower.
What about Privacy?
Just log in to Facebook, and you'll see how easy it is to find a person's date of birth, their mother's maiden name, the city the were born in, and their childhood pet's name. The people have spoken, and they've chosen convenience and connectedness over privacy.
And, while there's some information that's better kept to yourself, the truth is that we want technology to learn about us as individuals. With more information comes better algorithms. With better algorithms comes content that's customized to meet your individual needs. Algorithms filter out advertisements that aren't relevant to you while also delivering personalized content based on your interest and intent. If you go pin 100 photos of wedding dresses onto Pinterest, you're going to start getting ads for places like David's Bridal. If you buy an Instant Pot on Amazon, it'll start recommending other kitchen appliances to you the next time you log in. This is the world we live in. Technology is designed to alleviate pain points and maximize convenience.
I'm not blind to Alexa's problems. Obviously, something has gone wrong when Alexa is able to accidentally send a private conversation to one of your coworkers. However, I'm also realistic about the fact that this technology isn't going anywhere. Nor should it.
The ironic thing is that Amazon's decision to hire human employees to review Alexa voice commands, a move that has sparked massive backlash, was done with the intention to improve the software and make it less likely for mistakes like this to be made in the future.
Voice technology is intended to help assist you and benefit you as you go through your daily life. It keeps track of our schedules, takes care of some annoying errands, and generally gives us more time to focus on the important things. Your experience is customized based on your interactions with the technology to provide you with a better service across the board.
So, rather than complaining, it might be smart to say, "Thank you."
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