Do You Know Who's Listening?

Jan 19, 2018

The standout products from the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show were clearly the digital assistants -- specifically Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. And, if what was displayed at this year’s gadget show is any indication, we are on the verge of a voice-activated-device invasion.

Amazon has now released Alexa from her confinement in the Echo smart-speaker and opened up the service to all kinds of third-party devices. The idea is simple: If Alexa is going to become our new digital buddy, she will need to be everywhere and in everything — televisions, thermostats, microwave ovens, and even toilets. Alexa, flush.

Google is not far behind. Like Amazon, the Silicon Valley giant recognizes that the future of the Internet — what the tech industry calls the internet of things — will reside in voice-activated, connected devices. So Google, too, has been porting its digital assistant to all kinds of objects in an effort to ensure that -- when we talk to things, whether in our home or on the road — we are talking to Google.

Despite the remarkable conveniences these devices promise us, there are reasonable concerns. The “smarts” for these systems are not inside the device; they reside in the cloud -- so that everything you say to one of these appliances is going to be uploaded to the internet, stored by the corporation, and data-mined.

Consumers are able to control some of this, but doing so requires considerable effort on the part of users. So watch what you say. The machines are listening.

I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective.