For many products, you want to do at least some research before ordering. For products you order regularly, reordering is usually only a couple of clicks/taps.
I think the goal from Amazon's point of view is to be the middle man in as many transactions as possible and to abstract away the payment from the acquisition of the product or service. The more you can abstract the payment, the more money people will spend. Like with credit cards versus cash:
It's undeniably easier to ask Alexa to order it, for repeat orders at least e.g. the dish soap example.
I WANT the check out process, I WANT to verify my address, payment method, I want to confirm my order qty, shipping costs, and other items.
I am baffled by this trend to simply speak into the air and have a computer order anything with out limit based on what the computer thinks I said.
It has the most users at level 3 proficiency, but almost twice the amount of people who aren't able to use computers at all, compared to, say, USA.
Have you ever seen someone talk to a PC from across the room? Is there any popular PC voice software that is "always on" and doesn't get itself into bad states? ("dragondictate.exe has stopped")
I personally have taken 100's of pictures of Windows dialog boxes on giant advertising/airport displays. If people who are paid big bucks to manage a display can't keep it running flawlessly, how will someone who has bad motor skills and bad eyesight?
I'm not saying Alexa is more useful than a PC. But I am saying that Alexa is zero maintenance, and a PC is not. It's the same reason Chromebooks outsell laptops -- it's not that they do more than laptops, but what they can do, chromebooks do "better".
I do think Alexia is great for several things, but shopping for example benefits from more feedback.
By removing all friction and letting people order something exactly when they think of it, I suspect they will make many more sales.
I'd expect a tiny reduction in difficulty of ordering something (especially while making it harder to be sure what something you're ordering) wouldn't help much. What I would expect to matter, is how easy the entire process is compared to at other stores.
Unless they're just counting on preying on poorly-thought-out impulse buys?
Other than that is pretty much novelty like you said.
(Both deliver products similar to peapod)
If I could use voice to add to my list and/or order that wouldn't happen.
"Hey Siri, add toothpaste to the shopping list" throws it onto a Reminders list that's shared with my wife, so whoever happens to be at the store next always has an up-to-date list. It's shockingly convenient.
Now, if only Siri were smart enough to let me add multiple items in one go...
Agreed on the 2FA bit though; would love a good authenticator app with Watch support.
But most of this stuff is things I don't get from Amazon and, if I did, I'd want to check quantities, pricing, etc. For certain types of goods you might want to batch things up an use Amazon Pantry.
pre-Echo I've been using Evernote for this. I haven't had a chance to try out any of the alexa enabled things but OurGroceries looks to be about what I want.
how many doll houses is a person willing to return in order to make their soap purchase easier?
In my case, there's a Walmart I can drive to in about 5 minutes so stocking up on paper towels and dishwashing detergent every few months (and/or when I'm at the grocery store anyway) is pretty easy.
It's also a great way to practice your speaking ability. Really trains your enunciation.
Amazon needs to develop a biz model for skills that makes sense though.
It's definitely meant more as a replacement for a shopping list than it is a way to, say, do your Christmas shopping.
Is that a realistic scenario for the majority though?
Aren't most people going to either make a mental note and add it to the shopping list later, or just wash/wipe hands and add a note to the list on the fridge blotter/whiteboard etc.
It'll be a sad reflection on the evolution of cognitive thinking if the people believe that they have to drop everything, clean up and reorder cornflour the instant they run out.
> grabbing your phone, loading the app, searching for the product, and hitting "buy".
Considering that, as well as the other option of having a magical listening tube in the house, living in a small English village, I have the 'luxury' of grabbing my coat and walking about 400M to the local store, and apart from the minor health benefit, I could also stretch the operation into a dog walking session, bump into and talk to some friends on the way and get some fresh air. There's also the local pub (http://the-quaffer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/murrell-arms-barnh...). Alexa, pull me a pint of London Pride...
When used this way it's a minor extension of a shopping list that gets automatically fulfilled.
Are you really gonna argue that it's a "sad reflection on the evolution of cognitive thinking" to re-order something right when you realize you need it rather than making a mental note, possibly forgetting it next time you are at the store, the store maybe being out, and then having to lug this shit around yourself?
It's a convince. I personally use it for cat litter all the time. I get it from Amazon anyway cause they have the best price for it, and when I realize it's running low I tell the Alexa to order more of it. And that sure as hell beats the alternative of driving 20 minutes to the grocery store that has this cat litter at some point in the future before I run out (not everyone lives 400m away from a store that sells everything)
It's not the end of the world.
However, it is one of those small changes that shift society's rules of engagement very slightly. The teenagers I teach already order stuff from their phones, and discover music &c entirely through online media. I live near the centre of a large city in the UK and when I'm popping the 50m to the corner shop for more salt or haldi, I have to dodge the swarms Deliveroo bicyclists. Every takeway has the Just Eat sticker and all the radio cars have Uber on the side as well as the local taxi company.
There is a shift in the details of daily living.
The automobile. Indoor plumbing. Electricity. Stoves and vacuum cleaners. Television, radio. The wheel - but more importantly, the axle. Heck, hand washing shifted some details of life.
It seems very natural for us to move forward and change this stuff. Is some of it necessary? No, but that's just what humans do to an extent.
This isn't anywhere near a grand shift - it's a clever commercial ploy to increase profits for a narrow range of businesses.
> The automobile. Indoor plumbing. Electricity. Stoves and vacuum cleaners. Television, radio. The wheel - but more importantly, the axle.
Sure, THEY were grand shifts that improved health, sanitation, freed up significant amounts of travel or labour time, brought education and entertainment to the masses etc.
How do we classify Alex's contribution to society: "I can speak some words and receive cat litter the next day".
OK, I jest - the AI behind Alexa will no doubt reap other benefits in time, some may even be societal rather than commercial.
Don't get me wrong; I love gadgets and innovation - I work for an Enterprise Class storage manufacturer and spend all day working with terabyte/petabyte-scale disk and flash array setups, and stuff I can't even tell you about - but let's have some perspective here!
Maths example: place notation and Arabic numerals made adding and subtracting very easy (you try adding numbers in roman numerals without translating) but we lost insight into ratio and proportionality concepts. That was around 1200 or so in Europe.
this happens every generation.
the very things that some of us miss as "details shift" (like books) were the reason for the moral panic when first introduced.
I see you aren't a cat owner. One of our cats is pretty consistent but the other varies wildly both in her eating and pooping habits. One day the litter box is barely in need of scooping, the next you have to scoop twice throughout the day. This has caused us to have to buy a bag of litter in the middle of the week on more than one occasion.
There are times I would remember to get more when I'm running low, there are times I'd forget and I'd have to run out at 1am to the 24/7 supermarket because I feel so bad for forgetting and I know how much the cat hates when her litter is low.
In the past I would have multiple boxes stacked up and would try to reorder when I was down to one, but even then I'd forget, and storing multiple boxes of cat litter is annoying in our small condo.
This is a great solution to me. And before this I had a DIY button made with a raspberry pi that would do it for me that I put near the cat litter. IMO this is a better UX.
But I've found it's just not that consistent for it to work in some of these cases.
I sometimes order 2 boxes of litter a month, and sometimes don't order any.
Now if you are talking about something which will measure how much I have left via a scale or some other method and reorder when I'm low, I'd love that! I'll need to see if I can grab another ESP8266 and some load sensors and set that up!
The quality of many top Amazon results is often not accurately portrayed with all the fake comments, swapped products, etc. plus, with the various seller and shipping options, I frankly don't trust Amazon to pick the best product and options for me.
Damn, we really are living in the future the 1950s imagined we would.
Every year it's a stressful and unhappy affair for our small family since so many relatives expect something.
It isn't always cookies, but generally food. The weirdest thing I found is that folks wound up looking forward to my gift, even though they know what I give them. The main downside is that it takes some work, a bit of freezer space, and some planning.
They have all the food they will ever eat for the rest of their lives ?
My unsolicited advice is buy the equipment for making chutney / jam / pickle/ candied fruit / dried fruit etc. and give everybody a container of that with a pretty label their name & your name on.
And don't forget pickling in vinegar - cabbage, chillies, garlic, carrots, beans the list is almost endless.
Like so many things, what used to be a peasant essential has become an artisan treat.
For repeat orders, for small orders, for ordering a taxi, for ordering a repair man, for ordering specific things("i want the same earphones as my friend"), a voice chat may be useful. People don't want to research everything.
Or what if Amazon build a voice personality that people really like, and by extention, really enjoy getting help from when buying stuff ?
Furthermore, it's a bet. It wasn't so clear, at the advent of mobile, that so much ecommerce will happen there, instead of the big screen. but it did. People changed their habits. It's also not clear with voice, but it's hard to tell.
I'd probably use it for common household stuff if I didn't just buy that at the store. But I know a lot of people who buy cleaning supplies, cooking supplies etc on Amazon.
I don't think it's a blunder to say (almost) any sentence ... we do still have freedom of speech. To think that these viewers would expect that no one ever utters the phrase again is ridiculous. Next they' expect there to be legislation prohibiting certain words on any broadcast. An as more voice controlled devices are created, there are bound to be conflicts.
If they'd written this article correctly, they'd have an auto-playing audio clip that says "Alexa, order me a sandwich". A child named "Ok Google" will be the next version of "Little Bobby Tables".
"This is not the first time an ill-conceived TV spot has caused havoc with voice-control systems."
There's nothing ill conceived about the TV spot.
No, the phrase itself is not a problem, but when advertising your own product you should know better.
This is what's unethical. If users don't understand how they may be charged, they ought not to be charged.
My previous android phone didn't do this. The side effect is it doesn't catch all my different inflections of "OK Google". When I first said it, I said it in a super dull, boring voice. Now that's the only way I can trigger it. However, I haven't looked into training it further.
I also don't know how big a problem any of this is. Sure, it could be an issue but the fact that there are news stories about individual cases implies it's not rampant.
I never remember to start off being angry at my phone, so it always takes me two tries.
If something has harmful or annoying consequences, especially to people you don't want to piss off, doing that thing by accident really is a blunder no matter how much legal right you may have to do it.
(Also known as "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".)
You blame the person who built the thing to have harmful and annoying consequences. The one who made the blunder here is Amazon.
One side note is that I hope this doesn't become the "include no matter what" feature we've seen with IoT, etc. Imagine voice activation in an airliner cockpit - a terrorist walks to the forward lavatory and yells "dive and disable all controls". (yes ... it's very implausible but I predict there's at least one case where someone doesn't think through all the ramifications of their voice interface).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speaker_recognition is hardly a new thing. Further, if Amazon get's 200,000 orders for a doll house in the same second should be able to detect that as a mistake.
I had a coworker in college who executed a fork bomb on a production server. His excuse was that protecting from fork bombs is not his job and should have already been done by the admins. He was obviously fired on the spot. Just because you can, doesn't always imply that you should.
For example you have the freedom of speech to call your boss an asshole, your boss has the freedom of association to end your association with his/her business aka fire your ass.
Your boss can not violate your freedom of speech by preventing you from speaking in the manner you choose, but you can not violate your bosses freedom of association by forcing him/her to providing you with a job...
In the case of the fork bomb, that is neither a Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Association issue,
Employees in most business are required to treat company property with respect and care for BUSINESS PURPOSES ONLY, launching a fork bomb has no business value and is thus using company resources in a non-business purpose which is prohibited. Just like running a bit coin miner would be a firing offense.
Sorry no, in the US the 1st amendment protects you from government persecution, in other nations other laws protect your freedom of speech from government persecution
However this idea that "freedom of speech" is only about government is dangerous to the idea of freedom of speech. While protecting against government censorship is very important, protecting against other forms of censorship are also important.
In other words, when you stick an automated device in your home and give it permission to spend your money, you should probably exercise a bit of caution operating it. In the same way, credit card companies are not charged with fraud when little Timmy uses his Mother's Visa card to buy a few hundredweight of gobstoppers...
Now let's say this is a biopic that happens to be playing on your TV? All true events, and if you enabled purchasing directly from your Echo without safeguards you'll get an attempt to purchase a dollhouse. None of this is fraud, none of this is intentional. These are all shortcomings with where we're at.
Now if I ran an advertisement that said "Alexa, order me a SuperafunTime My Brand Dollhouse"- I should be slapped with whatever the law allows.
At most there's some form of tenuous indirect profit, but seeing as there's a backlash I doubt doing this was their intent.
They blame (and punish) the kid that "explodes" and not the bullies taunting him/her for months. They blame the whistleblower. They blame the reporter and the symptom. They blame the reaction and not the cause. They overwhelmingly target the immediate thing/person that causes a disruption, and what is most surprising to me - even if the actual cause is apparent and not hard to find!!
But, the news story was about Alexa having issues. Which both makes it hilarious and ironic, and means that the news anchor should have had reason to have possible issues in mind at the time.
In their current state, voice assistants appear to be wide open for abuse. You think auto-play ads on sites are bad now? Wait until they start auto-ordering for you too.
Or maybe even stop their turn by turn navigation... So then they have to try and drive while restarting it. Maybe they don't even remember the address, so they have to open the app and go to recents or check their email(Not Sure if Siri handles that part too).
I wonder if they'd be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if they did that same thing here in America. Hacking people's phones from the radio it feels to me.
Hell, it should also pay its customers for the hassle of finding themselves drafted into being beta testers.
Last night my wife and I spent about half an hour talking and SIRI activated twice--neither of us said anything to her and she doesn't even understand my wife's accented English very well. Casual voice recognition simply isn't up to the reliability to do automatic orders yet.
Or, how about "Ok Google, how do I assassinate the president?"
Edit: It is worth mentioning that Alexa being outside the TV does make a difference, as it's unlikely to have a directional microphone as would likely be installed in the TV.
The risk of unintentional purchases seems much too high, and one doesn't lose much convenience with a quick confirmation.
Would you say the same thing about someone who kept a small notepad in their pocket to write these sorts of things down? What's the difference between a notepad and this?
What about someone who asks their (human) partner to remind them to order dish soap later? How is that different?
(admittedly neither a human partner or a notepad would be fooled by a TV announcer, so that's a meaningful difference. On the other hand, it really seems like a bug in Alexa, not a problem with the users)
If I forget to put cat food on the grocery list, I guess they didn't need to eat that much...
I can understand that if one was living in a tiny apartment in the city, where it is easy to go to the store and storage space is at a premium, the on-demand model for getting your groceries and housewares might make sense. It would make me anxious, though; I'm a stockpiler that gets itchy if I have less than six months of canned goods and a freezer full of meat for the winter.
You've never written something down only to find the grocery store is out of it? Or forgotten the list at home?
Maybe I'm just really forgetful, but I have. And since using the Alexa like this, I don't. That's better.
I'm not blindly ordering everything through it, but some things definitely got the model very well.
I have in the past forgotten to do these things. I have in the past run out to the store at 1AM to pick up cat litter because I felt so bad I couldn't sleep.
Yes, there are other ways of solving this problem, but the Alexa works best for me.
Before the Alexa, I had a DIY rapsberry-pi button I'd use that would reorder specific items when I hit a button. I did this even before the dash button things because I know that it worked for me.
I just don't understand why people are so against this product existing. It makes my life better in a way that's worth the cost. You might not like or need it, but I do.
I'm sure society would be able to function without the "TV remote", but the fact that people find it convenient to control the TV from a distance makes it a nice to have. This is my convenience. This is one of the things that makes my life better in a small way.
Amazon is cheaper than my local store, I won't forget to do it, and it shows up by the next time I need it.
It allows the AI to hyper-specialize to recognizing that particular name, increasing reliability, and
use generic voice recognition, with the associated costs and privacy issues, only after activated.
Not 100% sure, but I think that activation recognition is even local. They only send your voice to mothership after activation.
Sensory includes a chart showing the CPU requirements for wake word activation and accuracy. 
The main reason custom names aren't allowed is accuracy and training time. Even with a well-trained model like Sensory's using 90 MIPS the wakeword isn't recognized 10.2% of the time and has false acceptance. Using a set wakeword could also allow for a FPGA or custom chip to have the wakeword model hard-coded for a much lower power hit for mobile applications.
One of the other wakeword solutions, Kitt-AI Snowboy  allows for personal hotwords, but it takes some effort to make a personal training set and this isn't nearly as robust as what Amazon can throw at it.
For example, could you list a uniquely named item on Amazon (perhaps as a Marketplace seller) and charge high restocking fees? Then instead of just trolling people for a laugh, your business model would basically be collecting restocking fees.
You can also already restrict purchases. Mine only adds to the shopping cart, for example.
Not sure that was the ill-conceived bit.
I doubt that Amazon will release their voice recognition models and parameters though...
The answer is, depending on country.
In Germany, all children of any ages can buy anything with previous approval by the parents. From age 7 on products costing less than the monthly pocket money cna be bought with approval after buying, from age 14 on all products.
So, as a result, you might have a 4 year old child ordering something online, and have to honor the order (just as 4yos frequently are sent to fetch bread from the neighbourhood bakery).
Obviously, cultural values affect this heavily — while in Germany and Japan this is normal, in many areas of the US people below 16 are not expected to act on their own, or buy things, so it can be obviously different.
As well as the fact that any product bought online can be returned within 2 weeks without explanation.
So there's an incentive for the seller there to limit accidental purchases, since those will likely cost the seller more than the disgruntled parent, who at most has to pay for shipping the product back and forth.
"Hey Siri" does a pretty decent job at having you quickly train your voice and only answer when it's you say the wake word.
The really useful next step will be voice independent language recognition with voice dependent command recognition. That and accent independent language recognition. That is one of the, if not the, next billion dollar acquisition by one of the big players.
I don't get the joke :-/
by the way, how does Alexa knows that you said Alexa without sending anything to the cloud if it needs the cloud to decode any speech?
Simply talking to or about them in your living room can now be a problem ranging from mild annoyance to credit card purchase.