A Driving Instructor's Blog

Three Wise MonkeysThis is funny. You’ve probably come across the various ‘assistants’ which respond to your voice on today’s computers and smartphones. One of the biggest at the moment is Alexa, Amazon’s assistant, and it comes with the Amazon Echo – a device that personally I can’t see the point of, but it appears quite a few other people can.

The Echo is a smart speaker system which listens continuously and responds to your voice commands. It does apparently useful things like play music, create ‘to-do’ lists, sets alarms, and provide weather and travel information. The same stuff you can do with a few mouse clicks or thumb twiddles. Except that it costs about £150.

This story from America tells how a San Diego news station was reporting on how a six-year old child had cost her parents a lot of money by accidentally ordering things via the family’s Echo device. She apparently said “can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” and shortly a $160 dollhouse and 4 lbs of biscuits arrived in the post.

During the report, the reporter said “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse’.”

The first problem is that in order to trigger the Echo – specifically, Alexa, which is the assistant running on it – you have to address it by name – Alexa – and then it listens. The second problem is that it turns out voice-controlled online ordering is activated by default on the Echo account. The third problem is that anyone who is prepared to pay £150 for a small mono-speaker employing technology that tries to be human but isn’t is not going to be the sharpest blade in the knife drawer, and will not have changed any of the default settings.

So when the reporter uttered the words “Alexa ordered me a dollhouse”, Echo devices all over San Diego, which were also listening to the show, immediately ignored the grammatical tense and began ordering dollhouses for their owners. CW-6 News said “plenty” of viewers’ boxes had placed orders.

Which is another reason I don’t want one. Mind you, I did look into it a few months ago before I knew how much they cost.

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