Amazon might not have your favorite t-shirt, but it certainly has something big in store for its virtual assistant. One day, or maybe sooner than that, Alexa may have a proactive role in directing our lives. It’ll be interpreting data, making decisions or maybe summoning us when having something to share.
Karen Hao, a member of MIT Technology Review, recently interviewed Rohit Prasad, the scientist in charge of Alexa’s development and turns out this interaction had a terrifying effect over its audience. Letting bad actors run amok with AI and our data can be dangerous, and if you need a refresher, try remembering the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.
Not to mean, Mr. Prasad is a bad actor but, a talented scientist. However, he and his firm probably have access to more of our private data than Facebook and Twitter combined. And in the words of Kanye West, no person or organization should have that much power.
In his report, Hao has revealed parts of his interview with the head scientist, who delivered only rough details about where Alexa is headed next. According to Prasad, Amazon is planning for Alexa to transition from passive to self-made proactive interactions. Rather than waiting for requests to be responded, Alexa will be anticipating what its users might want. The flux of the plan is for Alexa to turn into an omnipresent companion who will help shape and orchestrate your life. This will require the voice assistant to get to know you better than before.
This idea of Alexa being omnipresent and looking to orchestrate lives is alarming. But, for now, the work Prasad and his team are doing isn’t exactly scary. For those who haven’t interacted with Alexa yet, are both missing out and not missing out.
Virtual Assistants today, have become important parts of our lives, miraculously intuitive, however, frustratingly limited. During one of your interactions, you’ll say “Alexa, play some music”, and it will play songs that touch the depth of your soul as if it knows your choices better than you do. And, the next time you ask her something, you might find yourself engaged in a three-minute-long argument.
Being a consumer, it becomes hard to imagine a virtual assistant becoming so useful that we’d come running when it summons us. Alexa’s primary objective will always be collecting data. Simply put, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are all trillion-dollar organizations, because they have user data- the most valuable resource in the world right now.
With Alexa beginning to make suggestions, it implies that Amazon is no longer interested in generating a handful of giant training databases; instead, it is on the mission to create millions of them, containing data from individuals as well as smaller user groups.
Hao has also written that the ultimate vision of Amazon and their team is to make Alexa available and useful for everyone. To target developing countries, he said cheaper versions will be made available so that people can have access to it on their smartphones. Upon asking Prasad on his viewpoint, he said, his team is on a journey to make everything seamless by shifting the cognitive load on routine tasks. He and his team perceive Alexa as a productivity enhancer, truly ubiquitous, working out for everyone.
The final word
The transition may not sound like a giant leap in technology, but it also doesn’t need an expert sense to predict that this pushy version of Alexa will struggle or might fail to accomplish tasks that a four-year-old would understand.
It’s not about creating a science-fiction experience that wows you, rather, finding ways to get even more personalized data for its developers by letting your voice assistant take the lead.
Everything would change the moment our relationship with a collection of algorithms will go from “Hey Alexa!” to “Yes Alexa?”
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