Alexa invades your privacy

“Ghastly,” continued Marvin, “It all is. Absolutely ghastly. Just don’t even talk about it. Look at this door,” he said, stepping through it. The ‘irony’ circuits cut into his voice modulator as he mimicked the style of the sales brochure. “All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.”
As the door closed behind them, it became apparent that it did indeed have a satisfied sigh-like quality to it. “Hummmmmmmyummmmmmm ah!” it said.

Note how current day Voice Assistants have a cheerful and pleasant disposition too

Author Philip K Dick had voice assistants in a few of his books, but Ubik introduced the smart home assistant that turned malevolent.

Joe Chip is sitting in his apartment; He walks to his front door to open it.
The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.”
He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door.
Again, it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.”

“I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.”
…he found the contract. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.
“You discover I’m right,” the door said. It sounded smug.

And lets not forget about George Orwell’s 1984.

Note how once you become reliant on a voice assistant you forget the thousand-page EULA (end user licence agreement) that lets the company walk all over your rights and drain your wallet.

Then we have the voice assistant to end all – literally.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece film 2001: A Space Odyssey has HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer) that manifests as a glowing red light and a monotone voice.

HAL is an integral part of the smart space station with eyes, ears and sensors everywhere. Hal became self-aware and could do things he wasn’t even programmed for – intelligently converse, speech recognition, facial recognition, lip reading, interpreting emotions, expressing emotions, petulance and more – in addition to maintaining all systems on Discovery.

Alexa invades your privacy

Its sole job was to assist and protect its human crew and carry out the mission – there is a conundrum. Mission or pesky humans? BTW, HAL is the letters IBM – 1.

HAL was unfailingly polite, “Sorry Dave I’m afraid I can’t do that,” as he ejects the helpless astronaut out into space.

Note how once you become reliant on a voice assistant your options to do something manually slowly disappear.

In April 2019, Master Replicas Group posted an interesting update to an IndieGoGo project that has already collected more than US$650,000 in financial support.

The project is called the HAL 9000, and it is legitimate – licensed by Warner Bros – and fully funded, so it will ship soon.

It comprises a HAL 9000 Bluetooth smart home automation speaker but get this – it uses Amazon Alexa technology and you can get both HAL’s voice and Alexa through the device.

Alexa invades your privacy

BTW, Douglas Rain, the Canadian actor who voiced HAL 9000, passed away last year and you can now replace the default female Amazon Alexa voice with Rain’s eerily soothing tone – if you dare.

Sorry for the segue – back to how Alexa invades your privacy

It is all about ‘Purposeful Privacy Invasion’ (PPI)

An important sub-plot in “2001” relates to the dangers of handing over everyday tasks to AI. Some of those dangers now parallel the way the Amazon e-commerce ecosystem is developing with Alexa smart home speakers.

Concerns about privacy issues with Amazon Echo and other brand Alexa speakers were a focus of the Channel 9 report earlier this year.

Fergus Hanson, director of the Australian Security Policy Institute, said that smart home assistants are essentially adding an extra layer of vulnerability by expanding the attack surface. That means Alexa is an extra ‘entry point’ into your home that malicious hackers can exploit.

Hanson also spoke of the now infamous incident involving an American couple whose pillow talk was recorded by Alexa and emailed to a work associate.

As much as Amazon executives insist that privacy is at the forefront development of Alexa, the fundamental premise is that this AI system is all about PPI.