Yeh, right, when pigs fly. Your history powers their "AI". Aint no unlearning that.
Just yet another reminder that GDPR is the bare minimum for something like internet to be tolerable.
I think I'm being clueless, but I can't figure out what this sentence means. Is there a typo in it?
I think that this is an important point. Obviously there's more computing power available in Apple/Google/whoever's data centres than on my device, and I'm sure that is, or at least was, a concern; but I also don't believe that they are indifferent to the utility of sitting on such a huge volume of user-submitted, real-world data.
Alexa is a gimmick because it's a speech-to-text command line, and it's sold as being smart even though it's not. Since before I was a kid in the 90s, there have been many attempts to revolutionize computing with speech-to-text technology. Because speaking comes so naturally to us, it's easy to assume that voice-activated anything is better than pushing buttons. In reality, without intelligence and autonomy, lots of interfaces are made slightly worse with voice activation. For those who aren't visually impaired, the ability to use voice to turn off lights barely even makes sense. Alexa frequently gets things wrong and activates from sounds that aren't even close to the wake-word. The ability to create lists is barely practical because it so often can't understand a word, in which case the user has to go to the Alexa app and manually punch in the item.
Voice control would be great if it were revolutionized, but it's hardly in a different state than it was decades ago. The only two things that have changed are improved speech synthesis and ample cloud computing. Because of this, most people I know who own one barely use them beyond a select number of features that are hard to get wrong like "Alexa, what's the weather?" or "Alexa, what time is it?". My parents still sometimes use it to play music(which I gave up on as a music fan), but it gets requests hilariously wrong 1/5 times.
I have an Echo Dot which I use almost exclusively for a few static purposes: the weather, setting alarms, turning my lights on and off, and asking what time it is.
I also ask it basic questions like whether various sports teams won or what time they're playing, which it also answers well.
Not sure why you think it is useless just because it's not a magical general AI that can do everything.
I find it extremely useful.
> For those who aren't visually impaired, the ability to use voice to turn off lights barely even makes sense
I'm not visually impaired and I use this feature all the time. It allows me to turn off the light when reading in bed without having to get up and walk to the light switch.
> most people I know who own one barely use them beyond a select number of features that are hard to get wrong
Yeah, exactly. How does this make it useless?
It is genuinely useful to have a no-hands-required timer in the kitchen, and being able to turn off the bedroom lights when I'm done reading for the night without having to reach for a switch is great.
I was even pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Alexa's Skyrim. Sure, it's really more of a joke as it is, but it made me think that some choose-your-own-adventure skills would be a lot of fun.
(Asking Alexa to play white noise to help me sleep has been nice, too.)
> the weather, setting alarms, (...) and asking what time it is.
You can do that on your phone. Even assuming you wanted it hands-free, it doesn't justify an always-on microphone sending data to the cloud. We had the tech to do this level of voice recognition reliably in the 2000s.
> It allows me to turn off the light when reading in bed without having to get up and walk to the light switch.
Kids from my generation used to solder clap detectors for like $5-$10, and they're already more reliable and faster to use.
Voice is cool, it's like being in Star Trek. I get it, I built my own system to control music in the 2000s, complete with audio responses snipped from Star Trek shows. But the feeling of "living in the future" wears off pretty quick, and you're left with a ridiculously expensive and user-hostile gimmick.
This is a dishonest characterization of how every smart speaker in existence works. There is no continuous stream as this statement implies.
There is a continuous buffer of a couple of seconds for the device to locally catch a wake word. (You can verify this by disabling the device's internet connectivity - it will still catch the wake word and speak an apologetic message about not being able to connect). Also, changing the wake word requires a full restart, which says "firmware" to me.
After the wake word is spoken, that buffer and anything immediately after it is what gets sent up to the cloud for voice recognition.
The buffer serves a purpose in that it prevents an awkward pause between the wake word and the action reqeusted. (So you get to do "Alexa, turn on the lights" rather than "Alexa? bong Turn on the lights.")
The "user hostility" and "gimmick"-ness of this design is entirely subjective and quite overblown, in that "nobody will ever use Dropbox when they could just use rsync and a cronjob"-type bias that HN tends to have.
I'd say it beats the alternative from a pure functionality standpoint.
There was the one very publicized instance where it recorded private conversations and sent them to a random contact, but you have to wonder how many other non-Alexa commands have been picked up and sent off to Amazon even though they shouldn't have been.
So even if you trust Amazon with recordings of your weather queries, you also need to trust Amazon's wake word recognition to not pick up anything other than your weather queries.
And there was that other time when they took 1700 of their recordings, accidentally sent them to the wrong person, and a journalist was able to track down the recorded person based on their personal information from the recordings:
Maybe I said something which triggered it? No idea, but I'm sure that Alexa listening in caused the advertisement to show up.
I promptly set them all so they no longer listen and I'm trying to figure out a better solution (HomePod? Mycroft?). I absolutely love the (limited) capabilities smart speakers provide. But I'm done with Alexa.
Citation needed. I don't think the actual process is publicly available (though I may be wrong). Call me too cynical, but given the bugs that happened to both Google and Amazon, and that the law can force compel companies to do things with leased hardware they ordinarily wouldn't, I don't really trust it.
> The "user hostility" and "gimmick"-ness of this design is entirely subjective and quite overblown, in that "nobody will ever use Dropbox when they could just use rsync and a cronjob"-type bias that HN tends to have.
It's not like that. Dropbox is a simple service - syncs files, optionally allows sharing them. Doesn't do any weird stuff around it. Doesn't force an Internet round-trip for things that can be done locally. The user hostility of voice assistants comes from the way it's designed - cloud-based voice recognition instead of local one, forcing a cloud round-trip for doing things entirely over LAN, being tied to an "ecosystem" of third-party integrations you can't easily manage or complement with your own as end-user, etc. The "gimmick-ness" part comes from it doing very little, and doing it worse than alternatives.
I don't think you need a citation here. The network traffic is not sufficient to send always-on audio and the power consumption is not sufficient to do always-on speech-to-text or other similar analysis.
Well to me it says "static variable".
And a basic raspberry pi could be programmed to cycle through the weather, alarms, lights, time. I guess the crux of doing it that way however, is taking personal responsibility for security, which still seems better if you're slightly lax at it, than sharing your "house microphone" with a multi-billion dollar company with motivation to exploit it.
I already trust all those manufacturers not to secretly upload everything I say to the cloud. Why is amazon any different?
With laptops, smartphones, earbuds, etc. they're not designed to be heard from across the room.. Or even in your pocket. Even when my phones on speaker across the room people will have problems hearing me properly. With Alexa, Google Home, and others, the microphones are specifically designed to hear you from a distance away, over music and other ambient noises.
Simply put, an Alexa or Google Home is a much more effective listening device.
What evidence do you have of this?
They're not supposed to upload "everything" you say, only the stuff you say after the wake phrase. The issue is that they're known to wake up and start recording when they're not supposed to, because they're not perfect about recognizing the wake phrase. There's also the fact that they have to be _listening_ all of the time in order to hear the wake phrase, and the security fear is that, due to a bug or malicious software, they could end up recording and uploading everything they hear as well. That's not a problem of the stated intent of the device, it's a problem of the latent capabilities being used improperly. The best way to secure the device is to remove those capabilities.
"You could hypothetically be giving up all your privacy if there are bugs, and in some cases there are known bugs causing you to give up a limited amount of privacy" is a very different level of threat from "you are giving up all your privacy to Amazon who will use it for ad targeting".
I'm willing to accept the former, in return for the amount of convenience I get from the device.
However, others in this thread are arguing that nobody should accept the latter, which is irrelevant because it's not the real situation.
My wife tends to prefer using the TV as her reading light. I find that rather bizarre but she likes the background noise. In any case, TVs have remote controls and sleep timers so that mitigates the need for voice control.
To be honest, I couldn’t think of a place I’d less want an Echo than the bedroom. Even the bathroom seems less inappropriate (eg you might want music when in the shower / bath).
A small thing? Sure. But it is a genuine comfort that I enjoy.
I can totally see the benefit for people in
circumstances like your own (and those with greater concerns too). But for the average Joe? That’s another matter. Like any accessibility tool, I agree they are fantastic for those who depend upon it. However I wouldn’t advocate everyone gets a blind dog, hearing aid or wheelchair unless they actually needed it. Similarly would you actually want an Echo device in your bedroom if you didn’t have the accessibility concern that your CPAP machine creates?
Ultimately it’s harder to justify that privacy vs convenience trade off when accessibility isn’t an issue. But I accept that’s a decision which will be as divided as it will be personal. Myself; I have an Echo in the kitchen but I have no interest in allowing them to migrate upstairs.
Also thanks for the response. I do appreciate reading someone else’s perspective:)
The primary use of my Alexa devices is being a voice-controlled IP radio. I paid about $300 many years ago for Logitech/Slim Devices' crack at this, the Squeezebox, and I loved it.
Now, I get that same functionality for $40 shipped with more on top. Everything else is a bonus. including the smart home stuff - being able to turn the lights on with grocery bags in hand is damn futuristic.
Does it screw up sometimes? Sure. But it beats the hell out of a keyboard or dials for the use case.
These days the only thing my Echo does which is remotely useful is setting named timers while cooking. So I can have my hands dirty with raw meat and ask Alexa to set various timers for each step of the meal. I found that particularly good when cooking meals that have large gaps in time between stages (like Sunday roasts when there can be 5 minutes or more between the cooking times of different vegetables). However even there it sometimes becomes more trouble than its worth when it starts mishearing names of vegetables or duration numbers when spoken.
The most disappointing thing is that I spent a few days working with Alexa’s - frankly terrible - SDK to integrate it into my existing home automation (all stuff I’ve built myself and powered by a FreeBSD server). Not only was the development progress of Alexa skills amongst the most frustrating I’ve had in my ~30 years of experience writing software; but it turned out to be a complete waste of my time because Alexa is so piss poor at any interactions more complex than the very basic (as you described). It’s also very laggy at such interactions so even when it does work it feels slow. So slow, in fact, that it ends up taking longer and being more painful using the voice control than it would have been to wake my laptop from sleep and trigger the same HTTP API endpoints Alexa would used but instead doing so manually from the command line using curl. So needless to say I very quickly gave up using Alexa for home automation.
Also, based on every other case where I've tried voice recognition, I have to learn to speak in an extra-distinct and artificial way for a computer. (I don't think I have an unusual accent, but I can say "TRACK A PACKAGE" into the receiver all day long and not get where I want to go, even though no human would have trouble with it.) What's the point in that?
I.e. "Political threads are the nadir of discussion on HN"
On the 3rd one, voice actually made the smart home easier. To use a smart light bulb you had to unlock your phone, open an app, login, and do your thing. Now I tell my Alexa/Google to do it and it's super easy.
Also the chromecast integration on Google Home is killer "OK google play pandora on TV" or "Play xyz on youtube on tv"
(10% of the time she responds with, "OK, your six a-m alarm is off." I don't know why.)
What's less obvious is that they store everything and most definitely index it so it can be used later against you (all it takes is one legal action - separation, police, you name it).
What's further disappointing is that Amazon stores the transcribed text. Which may be incorrect but deemed "truth".