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TV anchor says live on-air ‘Alexa, order me a dollhouse’ (theregister.co.uk)
259 points by danielharan 256 days ago | hide | past | web | 232 comments | favorite

I don't really get the appeal of voice prompted ordering. Is there really a big enough market of people for whom this is more than a novelty?

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 don't really get the appeal of voice prompted ordering.

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:




Amazon's point of view is pretty clear. The question was about why anybody else would want to play along.

Convenience. The 'only a couple of clicks/taps' of GGP assumes user wants to fire up their device and go to Amazon.

It's undeniably easier to ask Alexa to order it, for repeat orders at least e.g. the dish soap example.

This is one of the reason I have never turned on "One Click Ordering" in Amazon either.

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.

The Dash buttons are the same ting. I'm willing to stipulate that there could exist some item that I order regularly enough to want a dedicated button (but don't want a subscription, which would probably give me a discount) and that Amazon reliably has a good price on it. But I certainly don't have anything that falls in that category.

Interesting how polarized Japan is.

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.

Japan have a larger percentage of older people over 30% are aged 60+ and over 12% are aged 75+ one of the major reasons

I wish you could do that with eBay, but sadly it seems to be, log out manually every time, or have absolutely no confirmation to order things. Which should be illegal.

My father is one of the last generation to be affected by the polio virus. As he is increasing in age, his body is failing, but his mind is sharp. We got him an Echo Dot for Christmas hoping that the ecosystem will build out a feature set on the device that will make his life better as he continues to lose his manual dexterity. My guess is there are a number of similarly situated people who could benefit if this platform delivers on potential. The addressable market may be small, but maybe the voice-recognition front-end is relatively trivial once you have the text API down. (Haven't had much experience with it yet, but optimistic based on his interest in the product.)

You can use most websites in voice only mode with the right software. If he was blind then voice only is more compelling, but he is probably better of with a full PC.

Apples and Oranges.

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 wish alexa was zero maintenance. It gets itself into a bad state about 1/4 of the time. Where bad state means having to guess some obscure word to get it to work properly (alexa stop, alexa cancel, alexa exit, alexa pause). You're right though, for poor motor skills and eyesight it is still probably better than a PC. I wouldn't depend on that MyBuddy app for anyone who actually needed it though. It is too unreliable. If you are counting on that, much better to get a wearable (monitor or self-activated).

There are 10 of thousands of people that interact with there PC's purely or 98% through voice due to heath issues. It's slower than a keyboard and far from perfect, but it's more useful than alexia right now. In 5 or 10 years who knows, but there is little reason to wait, IMO.

I do think Alexia is great for several things, but shopping for example benefits from more feedback.

Yes, but it seems like Amazon might be interested in removing one of those layers of abstraction and encouraging development of voice-only applications--which is a benefit to him. I'm excited about it.

There is a theory about "trivial inconvenience s". That every small obstacle you put in the way of something massively decreases user participation. Require a long sign up form on your website and only 10% of people will bother.

By removing all friction and letting people order something exactly when they think of it, I suspect they will make many more sales.

But there's also the inherent difficulties like deciding if something fits your budget, or if you have room for it, or which of a set of options you want.

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?

If a refill of soap doesn't fit your budget, you probably need to fix your budget. (meaning: it's a predictable recurring expense, so you should be able to roughly factor it in to your budget. There are some for whom this may not be true, but they're probably not wasting money on an echo, either.). I think that's the attraction of focusing on repeat buys. Make it easier to order it from Amazon than to put in your shopping list. (which risks comparison shopping)

It would be cool if they could integrate it with a service like peapod (grocery shopping brought to your door). "Alexa, add to list x" and eventually "alexa order list x"

Other than that is pretty much novelty like you said.

Or, say, Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Pantry?

(Both deliver products similar to peapod)

Also, "Amazon Now" - Amazon has a few overlapping services for this sort of thing.

It's useful to catch things you need before you forget. Like if your grabbing some advil and take the last two you can just order more and not stop whatever you were doing. It's a total #firstworldstrugs but not entirely without use and value.

This. It's pretty common for me to say for days "oh, I should get more toothpaste today" and then completely forget by the time that I'm in a position to record that somewhere. At some point I say "crap, now I'm out of toothpaste".

If I could use voice to add to my list and/or order that wouldn't happen.

This is, by leaps and bounds, the thing I use Siri for most frequently.

"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...

My real problem is that i rarely have my phone on me when I'm in the house. That causes issues for an increasing number of things which are phone/tablet only, including the 2FA app for my company's VPN

Hey Siri thankfully works on Apple Watch and iPad as well, so I'm almost always within shouting distance of Siri in my place.

Agreed on the 2FA bit though; would love a good authenticator app with Watch support.

I use Alexa to put stuff on a shopping list all the time. It's probably one of its more useful features for me.

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.

I've recently set up an Echo but haven't really explored this functionality yet. As you state most things I want I don't actually want to buy from Amazon. I've been looking into other shopping list skills to use. What I really want is something which synchs with a smartphone app I can use when I'm at the store.

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.

Echo syncs lists to the Alexa app on the smartphone. The voice recognition works quite well and I find it very handy when I'm cooking and notice I'm almost out of something to add it to my list without having to stop what I'm doing.

Huh, I hadn't noticed the todo list and I always assumed the shopping list was my amazon cart. Neat.

I've used it myself for dish soap and I know people for whom that's the entire reason they bought it.

key question for amazon:

how many doll houses is a person willing to return in order to make their soap purchase easier?

It'd only be a key question if one assumes the technology isn't going to radically improve over the next 5 or 10 years. It's going to. Deploying to consumers and dealing with such problems, learning from how millions of people use something, is a requirement of that process of improvement. It's similar to people questioning the GUI in the very early days of the PC, because working directly with text operating systems was still superior. It was extremely widely argued that GUIs were junk, were never going to catch on, were too slow, too glitchy, didn't add enough value etc - it's an obvious and common failure to look beyond the tip of one's own nose.

And what's the mark up on that compared to the grocery store? Considering shipping/prime subscription etc

There's Amazon Pantry, which has you adding items to a box, which is only sent when full. Thus the mark-up remains quite low.

I looked into it a while back. The conclusion I reached was that it might be worth it if driving to the grocery store/Walmart, shopping, and bringing your supplies home was a hassle for some reason. But Walmart tended to be cheaper than even Prime Pantry and you have to be somewhat selective in shopping in Amazon. (You'll find some items are randomly pricing.)

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.

How often are you ordering dish soap that you need to streamline that process? Maybe it's because I live alone, but I buy dish soap maybe once a year.

Why not Dash if that is the entire reason?

Dash seems limited by being tied to one item. I don't get the appeal of Dash either because items I know I need a reoccurring supply of, I get a subscription to.

The Dash is a microsphone/scanner wand thingy, distinct from the Dash Buttons

I think the implication is "wet/soapy hands"

Think about what you're doing, and what condition your hands are in, the moment you use the last of the dish soap.

As you get used to and comfortable talking to your alexa, you find that you actually start doing it for a lot of things.

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.

In a way, it's (probably unintentionally) training its human to use a narrower range of voice patterns (which is handy when collecting data to train a network with), similar to how we're more likely to write in sans-serif than cursive now that computers are ubiquitous.

There was an article on HN a while ago that claimed it was really ball point pens that killed cursive... the writing style and ink viscosity meant that the speed gains from writing cursive were no longer true, and instead it became slower.

Well, Alexa will only actually buy something if you've already purchased it (EDIT: Seems this isn't true anymore!). The use-case of this is something lie "Alexa, buy more toilet paper" or "Alexa, we're out of salt." Saying it from across the room while cooking is much easier than washing your hands, grabbing your phone, loading the app, searching for the product, and hitting "buy".

It's definitely meant more as a replacement for a shopping list than it is a way to, say, do your Christmas shopping.

> Saying it from across the room while cooking is much easier than washing your hands, grabbing your phone, loading the app, searching for the product, and hitting "buy".

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...

Oh come on.

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.

No, I agree, it is 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.

I read this stuff, read there is a shift in the details of daily living... and for the life of me, I don't understand why this is a bad thing. It isn't like we've not had grand shifts before.

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.

> It isn't like we've not had grand shifts before.

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!

I don't know if it is a bad thing or a good thing or something in the middle (some advantages but revealing new problems such as the one in the OA). But there is a shift.

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.

who cares?

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.


While I'm not arguing against the use case for Alexia, for something like cat litter, why not buy 1 bag every X weeks, surely your cat excrement production rate is fairly constant.

> ...surely your cat excrement production rate is fairly constant.

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.

So the variance is high but the rate is fairly constant

I'm not perfect.

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.

I shoul dhave made the point that a more useful system would learn your re-order timing and you wouldn't have to do anything except bring it inside.

It does try, and for some things that does work.

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 majority needn't buy it for it to make billions for Amazon.

Really? For me it will order whatever I ask for (it'll report the first result of the search, tell me the price, and ask if I want it).

And this is the reason I'll never use that feature.

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.

For some things, sure. But if I just want batteries or something? It's fine, and saves me some time.

Funny you use that example. There's actually a lot of issues depending on what batteries you buy as some sellers swap in expired batteries, or off-brand replacements. It was so hard to find a certain battery I needed once that was legit, that I just ended up going to my hardware store and getting whatever namebrand they had.

How about a pony?

No, a pony will take a nice trot up to you and politely ask if you know what you're ordering.

Unless you've ordered a pony before in which case it'll be happy to have the company.

This combined with Amazon's Prime Now service makes it almost possible to start a meal, realize you're low on an ingredient, yell at your Echo, and get the ingredient in time to finish dinner.

Damn, we really are living in the future the 1950s imagined we would.

Christmas shopping would be possible if Amazon would allow for connecting amazon account with Facebook. You could then give commands like "Add to shopping cart , $50 items from my family members wish lists".

Does this really sound at all appealing? Buying things at random from automated lists?

How else could you possibly show you care? /s

Maybe you care, but can we please have this, as a "Christmas for the rest of us"-Solution?

Every year it's a stressful and unhappy affair for our small family since so many relatives expect something.

Good point, I realize I've come to somewhat dread Christmas as well. So many gifts for people that don't care because they have everything, yet you're socially obligated.

I've got a solution for this that I've practiced for the last couple of years: presents for children only. The annual pointless spendfest is the dark side of a consumerist economy. If you or your friends and family are offended because you haven't bought them a gift it's their problem, not yours.

We've switched to this in both my family and my wife's family, and I like it so much better. It's fun buying gifts for our kids (and nieces and nephews) and removes the sense of obligation that takes away from the giving and receiving beyond that.

I solve this with food. For years I've made christmas cookies. General mix for work and folks I don't know well. If I know someone's tastes and they are close, I customize.

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.

Craft them something? I mean, you don't have to gift expensive things just because.

If kids aren't involved, I think the Yankee Swap is the answer. Everybody brings one gift, you pick numbers out of a hat to see who gets to choose first, you can either pick a wrapped present or steal one that's already been opened. Everybody gets a present, and it tends to be something that you might actually want or make use of, since you usually can end up trading away anything that is a real bad fit.

> So many gifts for people that don't care because they have everything, yet you're socially obligated.

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.

This is one of the best solutions I've heard, thank you.

It is very rewarding in and of itself and doesn't take lots time to make far too much :)

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.

I know a few families that have all agreed to go the Secret Santa route - each person has one other to buy for, except for the kids in the family. This means everyone will get something, but it limits the cost aspect -- of course couples etc might do something for each other separately - but for the overall family giving aspect it greatly narrows the scope.

if you don't know what to give someone, give them something they'll use up. food, candles, nice pens, incense, olive oil, wine or liquor, a bouquet of dying plants, etc

In case you didn't know, you can already share your Amazon wish lists with people. You don't need Factbook integration.

Not true anymore

Amazon's end goal is to be the place where a large share of consumers , many who aren't so much cost concious , buy everything.

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 agree, but I think adding to my basket/list/saved-for-later would be good - I don't have to remember it, and I can check exactly which version I'm buying before I do.

The only time I used it was when my dog puked and I use the last of the carpet cleaner as I was cleaning. I didn't want to forget.

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 think it appeals to Amazon. Precisely because of accidental orders and because they hope it will catch on.

Amazon has a friendly enough return policy (which they eat the costs for) that I don't think they're banking on accidental orders.

It's great for Amazon because you are not on the web comparing the prices. You will blindly trust Amazon to have the lowest prices and will order stuff.

for me the appeal hinges on the quality of being understood and the sophistication of the software. it's fairly binary - if it's natural and fluid, it's pretty cool; if it's too high friction, i completely lose interest.

I use it for protein powder and hair stuff. That's it.

"Telly station CW-6 said the blunder ..."

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".

"We'll take this opportunity to point out that voice-command purchasing is enabled by default on Alexa devices.

"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.

If the TV spot they're referring to was an Xbox One advertisement with the phrase "Xbox on", yes, it was ill-conceived because it was a commercial for the voice-control system being advertised. It would be like an Amazon commercial triggering Alexa.

No, the phrase itself is not a problem, but when advertising your own product you should know better.

Surely it's the TV spot which is ill-considered rather than the opt out setting... Right ;)

> "We'll take this opportunity to point out that voice-command purchasing is enabled by default on Alexa devices.

This is what's unethical. If users don't understand how they may be charged, they ought not to be charged.

I recently got a Google Pixel and one of the first things it does is map your voice to "OK Google", so not just anybody will trigger it. It has you say the phrase several times.

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.

Can you change this to something else? One of my big frustrations with Google's assistant is that I have to say "Ok Google" which is long and clunky. I'd rather just say "Google" or even rename it to something else. Voice input should be fast and fluent. A four syllable activation phrase that doesn't quite roll off the tongue is neither.

You can on my 2014 Moto X. Mine is trained to "Listen up, phone!"

Nope. And I don't think you'd want it switching on every time you use the word google as a verb.

My phone let me change it. It listens for "personal assistant." I also have some version of Moto-X.

One thing I hate is when I say 'OK, Google' and my watch, phone and tablet all try and respond! I wish it was possible to customise the trigger phrase between devices in some standard way, e.g. 'OK, Watch', 'OK, Phone', or a shout-out to Radiohead with 'OK, Computer' and maybe even something like automatically recognising 'OK, ${HOSTNAME_OR_BLUETOOTH_IDENTIFIER}'...

Assuming that you use the same account on each. They should just decide between them which has better clarity and respond accordingly.

A problem with doing this on an Echo is that a Google Pixel has quite a bit of local processing power. I expect the trigger pre-processing on the Echo is fairly limited. It's also intended to be a shared device.

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 have the opposite problem re: what voice I use. When I say it "normally" the phone doesn't respond. Then, I say it in my "WTF why don't you understand" voice and it responds instantly.

I never remember to start off being angry at my phone, so it always takes me two tries.

My friend had a phone that did this, but apparently my voice was similar enough to be able to trigger it too.

These are all becoming my new mic check phrases by the way. One two, One two is done.

Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should do that thing.

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".)

> If something has harmful or annoying consequences...

You blame the person who built the thing to have harmful and annoying consequences. The one who made the blunder here is Amazon.

Freedom of speech protects you from government persecution. Nothing to do with whether you thought through what you were going to say or not.

I'm more arguing that Amazon, Google and any other companies that produce/use voice activated systems shouldn't limit my ability to say what I want to - whether it's broadcast or not. I'm not arguing against the idea that there are things I shouldn't say or that might actually be illegal despite my free speech rights (the proverbial yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is a perfect example).

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).

If Amazon etc have zero security that's their problem not mine.

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 am not saying you can or cannot do what the TV anchor did. But you confused freedom of speech with this issue.

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.

Having freedom of speech, or any other freedom does not mean freedom from consequences.

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.

You can put a passcode on it. I've got mine set so that I have to also say my passcode in order for it to register, easy peasy

>>Freedom of speech protects you from government persecution.

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.

Somebody please channel George Carlin.

Edit: i was wrong

That's not the impression I got from the article. He was just paraphrasing the little girl, saying "Alexa ordered me a dollhouse", which coincidentally sounds like "Alexa, order me a dollhouse".

you're right, i misinterpreted

Freedom of speech doesn't make it legal to order things to someone else's account. That's fraud.

You're absolutely right, Amazon did commit fraud by not confirming that the person doing the ordering is the owner of the account. They should be held liable for the result.

What? I'd be willing to bet the T&Cs have a section along the lines of "Amazon is not liable for accidental purchases made by the user, minors, exceptionally realistic sounding parrots, or other unauthorized persons that are in the presence of the device with the permission of the owner."

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...

My friend's name is Alexis, we basically turn off Alexa when she's over. Now, what if Alexis is helping me pick out a doll house for my daughter and I say Alexis, Order me a dollhouse?

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.

I'm not a lawyer, but wouldn't it require intent? It's not like the TV station is profiting from people receiving dollhouses.

At most there's some form of tenuous indirect profit, but seeing as there's a backlash I doubt doing this was their intent.

Also not a lawyer, but isn't that where gross negligence picks up the slack?

Yeah, like publishing an unsecured interface for executing purchases? Or installing one on your phone?

I don't understand why people are blaming the news report for this instead of Alexa.

Yeah, noticed that too. I think humans are playing life like I used to play chess or even Civilization: like an FPS (first person shooter) game. Don't think more than a single step ahead, just shoot at the first thing that you see!

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!!

That's been my takeaway as well. If I could talk to the next bullying victim considering murder before the act I would point exactly this out. Society will then label you the problem when your bullies were the actual problem.

This only works because Alexa has issues, yeah.

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.

This is why I feel that people should be able to set their own word for Alexa to listen for.

They can at least set a PIN for voice purchasing. Which IMO should be the default behavior..

Agreed. I never really thought about it, but currently, is there any security at all? For example, is there anything to stop a 6 year old from ordering a ton of stuff?

The PIN.

Ugh, I misread the comment I was replying to. Thank you.

Toyota ran and ad campaign in Sweden in 2015 that targeted Siri: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqZBVTMrgFA.

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.

Oh wow. That's a neat ad, but kinda creepy... What if someone was already using their phone hand free? Listening to Pandora to their cars BlueTooth? Or even if they weren't using their phone at all - the fact that Siri is being activated without them doing so could be a distraction.

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.

Navigation was actually the first problem that came to my mind too. There are plenty of legitimate uses of smartphones while driving. Airplane mode seems like a solution to the wrong problem.

Why is this in English? Both the ad itself, and the prompt for Siri - which is presumably set to Swedish on most people's phones in Sweden?

I don't know what the Siri prompt actually is in Sweden, however 'Hej' is an incredibly common greeting there and sounds like Hey.

That add is genious

If your device is stupid enough to order things when some random person on TV tells it to, then your device probably shouldn't be in people's homes.

I wouldnt phrase it that way. But it is very badly designed that the voice command purchasing is enabled by default, and should be changed that when set up it has to be explicitly activated.

Frankly, Amazon should be held liable for any order that cannot be proven to have been ordered by the device owner (or authorized user) plus any extra time and effort required by the customer to make it right (e.g. time, labor, and materials or boxing it up and sending it back for a return).

Hell, it should also pay its customers for the hassle of finding themselves drafted into being beta testers.

I think the real problem here is the lack of a confirmation. How it should work: "Alexa, order me a dollhouse" Alexa: Do you want me to order an XYZ dollhouse? "Yes". Alexa: Delivery is expected on xx/xx/xx. or <anything else> Alexa: forgets about the dollhouse.

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.

Even then it's pointless if someone on TV (or a casual visitor) can trigger the order.

That is how it works.

What are the other use cases for it?

I've been waiting for this for years :) I figured it would be some shock jock saying, "Ok Google, show me pictures of child porn" over the radio, causing people to panic while driving and that would be the end of stupid, always-on, voice commands.

Oh, that's evil!

Or, how about "Ok Google, how do I assassinate the president?"

For the HN crowd, I'm surprised most comments here focus on ordering things via voice. There's a much more disturbing lesson here and it's not far fetched at all compared to most doomsday theories. Right now, Alexa et Al can control your home, I'm sure it's one step away from summoning your Tesla. What comes after that? Then all you need is an IoT exploit deployed and an implanted Alexa time bomb that's triggered by a commonly uttered phrase. Without the exploit, you could probably get pretty far with a mass broadcast, "Alexa, have Tesla drive to Times Square"

30 Rock has a great scene making fun of this very scenario. It doesn't seem to be readily available online, although it's on the episode ¡Qué Sorpresa! for those interested. Then Forbes wrote an article explaining why this can never happen.


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.

I just want to go home and delete everything on my DVR!

Given that everything must go through shipping & handling which is typically measured in days, what is the benefit to ordering immediately? Surely these services could batch your requests through the day and push a confirmation request to the buyer(s).

The risk of unintentional purchases seems much too high, and one doesn't lose much convenience with a quick confirmation.

You can put voice ordering behind a voice pin number to prevent this which I like more as it keeps the whole interaction on the Alexa.

Amazon has same day delivery for plenty of large cities now.

The benefit is not forgetting to order it later.

If you forget to order it later then you didn't really need that bad, money saved.

I think you are making false assumptions about the way other people's brains work. We can't all remember to do things later, no matter how badly we want to.

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)

So if I forget to get more laundry detergent when I notice it's out that means I didn't need it anyway?

If I forget to put cat food on the grocery list, I guess they didn't need to eat that much...

The time to notice that you're running low on something is when you're starting to run low on it, not when you've exhausted it, I would say.

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.

Youve never made a mental note to get more of something then forgot?

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.

Forgetting about laundry detergent happens to me all the time, I do the laundry the next day or the day after that, it's not the end of the world. About buying cat food I agree, you should be more careful, if you forget buying food for your cats then I don't think a software program like Alexa it's going to help you with that.

But it does help me with that!

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.

Just go to a bodega?

Why not just tell my Alexa when I'm running low?

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.

This could be mostly solved by allowing people to rename their digital assistants.

Good point. Are households with someone named Alexa completely unable to use this product?

No, there are two other name options available: Amazon and Echo. Echo is my preferred one, since it's two syllables.

Just don't watch any episode of "dollhouse" where the lead character played by Eliza Dushku is called Echo

You can change the wake word to 'amazon' or 'echo'

I'd rather change the entire persona. Alexa, siri, google, etc are all bland and boring. Not surprising given the creators. I want a sassy NeNe Leakes!

I mean, Cortana is a little fleshed out... Although but I'm not sure she a sexy blue woman appeals to all

I like to envision her as Zoey from Left 4 Dead.

If you make your own Alexa device you can do so. It's simple enough with a Raspberry Pi and a microphone. Unfortunately you lose the far-field mics is you do this.

https://github.com/alexa/alexa-avs-sample-app https://github.com/Kitt-AI/snowboy

You're right, but I think name-pinning has some important benefits:

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.

Yes, activation is local. You can see this in the documentation for making your own Alexa device. [0] To my knowledge all the cloud-based systems use something like this for both privacy and technical reasons.

Sensory includes a chart showing the CPU requirements for wake word activation and accuracy. [1]

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 [2] 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.

[0] https://github.com/alexa/alexa-avs-sample-app [1] https://github.com/Sensory/alexa-rpi [2] https://github.com/Kitt-AI/snowboy

Serious question, what's preventing someone from exploiting this for profit?

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.

Couldn't the assistants (google, alexa, siri) be improved to do voice fingerprinting for specific commands (like purchases, unlock the front door, ...) where only certain voices are allowed to execute them?

i believe so, but i wonder how many false-negatives would arise from background/accompanying noise.

Do Alexa TV commercials wake up Alexa? Like the one that has "Alexa, call me an Über"?

Occasionally. Sometimes the echo flashes to indicate it heard it's name, but not enough to respond to.

If I remember correctly, doesn't Apple's Siri get trained to your voice so other people don't activate it? It only seems appropriate for Amazon to make sure only specific voices are associated with purchasing rights or else kids will just be ordering anything. There really should have been some sort of authentication method for sensitive things like this.

I do often have guests over that use it. Having the option does sound good.

You can also already restrict purchases. Mine only adds to the shopping cart, for example.

Is that the default? It really seems like that should be the default..

It does, but it's not an exact science. My wife trained hers, but her Siri responds better to me than it does to her...

Personalized voice recognition, especially when your receiver is somewhere in your room, not in your hand, is probably easier said than done. I'm guessing the more accurately it detects who's speaking, the more it will fail to work at all due to noise etc.

Ah, censorship by robot, where we have to watch what we say in public for fear of triggering people's assistants.

This blunder seems to be mild in comparison to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5p0gqCIEa8

Can't wait when commercials just go: "Alexa, buy <whatever we are selling>".

I wonder if it would qualify as computer crime if you do it on purpose.

Through the window: "Alexa, unlock the garage bay doors".

"ill-conceived TV spot"

Not sure that was the ill-conceived bit.

I wonder if it's possible to create a TV commercial that says "Alexa, order me a dollhouse" but not trigger the Amazon Echo in the room, by doing something like playing ultrasound static at a louder volume than the "Alexa, order me..." which would overload the Alexa microphone but would be too high of a frequency for your ear to hear.

It might be possible to come up with an analogy to adversarial images in object recognition networks -- just take a clip of the speaker saying the keyword ('Alexa', 'Ok google') and tweak it until it's no longer recognized by the machine, but sounds normal to a human.

I doubt that Amazon will release their voice recognition models and parameters though...

These devices should be using multiple microphones so that they can tell where sounds are coming from, and during setup they should be shown the location of the TV and exclude any commands coming from there.

They do use multiple microphones and know where you are. (They don't let you tell it where a TV is though. )

If it reacts to any voice, it's unusable for anyone with kids. Shopping really has to be locked down to authorized people's voices. Is it even legal for kids to order stuff on the internet?

Good question!

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.

Though in Germany, products sold to children not meeting the criteria (i.e. being bought without the approval of their parents) can be returned, since law places the fault with the seller.

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.

In the US, the 4 year old could be taken away from the parents if they allowed him to go to the bakery alone, and the parents would be lucky to avoid jail.

It has an option to lock ordering behind a voice pin

Except relative to my echo I'm often close to the tv.

"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.

I always chuckle at these, and yes voice independent recognition is always going to have this challenge. I tried a half dozen different "activation" phrases for my Moto-X and they all triggered at odd times by non-activation things (like the movies).

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.

Did any orders actually happen, or is this a fake outrage story?

No, it asks for a confirmation at the very least, and a voice code as well. Hacker news is filled with morons who know little to nothing, just like any other sufficiently large online community.

Is it just me, or the subheading is "Story on accidental order begets story on accidental order begets accidental order"?

Yes, it's a joke.

Why, what's "begets“?

I don't get the joke :-/

Think of it as a synonym for 'creates'. It's very archaic; the classic use is biblical. There's a passage - I think early on - that goes something like "Jacob begat Balthazar, Balthazar begat Abraham, ... etc." Goes on for 50 odd names and essentially means "fathered" in that context.

Ah, got it (sorry, English isn't my first language).

So this is the new taboo? We have to watch what we say on tv and radio because a lot of people decide to buy this product?

Confused. Alexa doesn't order anything unless you do it manually. It just creates a shopping list. So somebody say "Alexa, order me a dollhouse" and the viewers' shopping lists got something scribbled on them. Nobody bought anything.

This is a technical problem and can be solved by technical improvements. The listening device needs enough microphones to locate the exact position of the sound source. If it never moves then it's not a human and it should be ignored.

Just quietly, I'm looking forward to a new form of wardriving where you hang out the window of your car with a mega phone and ask Alexa to buy expensive jewellery or sex toys.

This is so 2014. I remember when when Xbox users with Kinect had this happen.


"Alexa, order me a new tin foil hat"...

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?

Amazon is currently running a TV ad which has three people saying "Alexa..." commands; I wonder why that ad isn't also causing false positives?

This makes me wonder how long until some musician or band does a Superbowl ad with "Alexa/Siri/Cortana, play _____", followed by silence.

Seems like a critical flaw in voice-control. Imagine a prankster driving through town with speakers blasting "Alexa, order me 20 dollhouses".

I wonder whether fewer people in the US will be naming their children "Alexa" or "Siri" in the coming years.

Had this thought too. Mass broadcast will eventually learn and issues like this avoided, but what about the life of everyone with those names and their acquaintances?

Simply talking to or about them in your living room can now be a problem ranging from mild annoyance to credit card purchase.

Sounds like someone needs to either (a) get a patch out, or (b) pass a law before alexa-aware advertisements become a thing.

And now we enter the era of cybernetic capitalism and runaway purchasing loops.

This reminded me of the Halloween III tv commercial...

Viral purchasing?

What a time to be alive.

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