An Amazon Echo recorded a family’s conversation, then sent it to a random person in their contacts, report says

Excerpt from this article:

Amazon said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post on Thursday afternoon that the Echo woke up when it heard a word that sounded like “Alexa.” “The subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list.”

Amazon unveils Alexa for kids… and there’s a lot at stake for them to get it right

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According to Buzzfeed News, Alexa will reward kids for good manners (like saying “please”).It will also temper its response to sensitive questions like “Where do babies come from?” (A: “People make people.”) and “Why are kids mean to me?” (A: “People bully, or are mean, for many different reasons. Bullying feels bad and is never OK.”)*Pause to collect yourself after picturing that heartbreaking scenario*

The implications are massive

In both scenarios above, Alexa also tells kids to talk to a trusted grown-up, but there’s no question it would play a pivotal role in the development of a child who regularly interacts with it.Whereas Facebook doesn’t have access to kids until they turn 14 (the age limit to create an FB account), Amazon will theoretically have access to kids from birth — long before they can even read or write.For kids that grow up with the device, Alexa will theoretically have a record of everything they’ve asked or listened to. And, as Amazon says on their site, “She’s always getting smarter.”

Amazon Echo for Dementia: Technology for Seniors

amazon echo for dementia

Excerpt from this article:

Echo for dementia

Caregivers often get frustrated because seniors with dementia repeat questions endlessly, need to be entertained, or get anxious when you’re not around. Having Echo there to answer questions, talk about news or weather, or play music can give caregivers much-needed breaks.

Echo can’t completely replace human touch or real conversation, but the intelligent voice controls can make it feel like a helpful friend.

Echo’s voice-activated features are great for seniors with dementia:

  • Instantly answers questions, like “what day is it?” or “what time is it?” — it’s a machine, so it will never get annoyed or frustrated!
  • Plays music and read audiobooks and the news — no need to fuss with complicated controls
  • Tells fun jokes and riddles
  • Looks up information about anything — like, “what’s playing on TV tonight?”
  • Reports traffic and weather

Yelling at Amazon’s Alexa

Part of living with Alexa involves learning what she’s good at. She’s bad at being a person; get cute and things will backfire.

Excerpt from this article, via @whatleydude:

Part of living with Alexa involves learning what she’s good at. She’s bad at being a person; get cute and things will backfire. “Alexa, what should I eat for dinner?” will yield ho-hum truisms about pizza and vegetables, meant as lighthearted fun. Ask for a joke, and you will end up shaking your head in disgust. In August, Amazon suggested that I ask Alexa for a joke about the Olympics, which I did, to my regret. “Why did the prospector try out for the Olympics?” Alexa asked. She doesn’t wait for a response. If you say “Why?,” as humans do, you will talk over her punch line: “He thought he could pan for gold.” This came out like “guuuld.” All in all, it’s a grim experience. Prompted by an e-mail, I asked her to sing “Happy Birthday.” (Wow: Alexa sings!) Rather than turning my music off first, she lowered its volume, and sang “Happy Birthday” on top of a thin layer of “Naked If I Want To” by Cat Power: a morose party trick, best performed for an audience of one, and served with solitary cupcake, candle, party hat, and noisemaker.

…Yelling, as opposed to poking around on a screen, can help put you in touch with your id. And it adds to the pleasure. One weekend morning, I found myself yelling that I wanted to hear the Grateful Dead. (I have historically been a jerk about the Grateful Dead.) Alexa happened to choose the song I had in mind. I let it play the Grateful Dead all morning, and it reminded me of the seventies country-rock I grew up listening to, and I liked it. It was comforting, washing over me like the ocean.

…But things can get hairy, streaming-music-wise, when you venture into what you don’t want to hear: the wrong band, the realm of their playlists. By yelling, you surrender some control. In July, I hollered for one of my summer playlists on Spotify—a pleasant blend of Yo La Tengo, Grandmaster Flash, Mungo Jerry, and so on—and had a violent reaction when it played one of Spotify’s own summer playlists. (An innocent mistake, I suppose, but enraging: it did not sound like music, and it was as if I had an allergy to it.) I felt vaguely wronged. Amazon’s e-mail suggested that I play an Olympics playlist called American Pride. (“U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” the e-mail read. “Cheer on American athletes at the Summer Games with a playlist full of upbeat patriotic tunes.”) I rejected, with a shudder, playlist suggestions such as Classic Rock Dinner Party, Caffeine for Your Ears, and Breezy Summer Classics. In a spirit of perversity, I asked Alexa to play a playlist called Just Breathe, from Amazon Prime, which I knew would be nothing but trouble. Suddenly my apartment filled with unnerving new-age music you shouldn’t hear anywhere but when you’re lying on a slab—maybe you’ve just had acupuncture needles removed, or somebody on TV is in the hospital.