Bytes of Tech is a column by Vivian Wang that highlights the role of technology in the lives of Generation Z youths and the ways that youths can bridge the gender gap in STEM. This week, Wang shares her immediate takeaways after reading an MIT Technology Review article on Artificial Intelligence.
In my home, we have an unspoken rule to avoid summoning our tech with phrases like “Alexa,” “OK Google” and “Hey Siri.” My family and I know that with the power of AI, our smartphones and voice assistants are all quietly and stealthily listening to our daily conversations.
After reading a MIT Technology Review article headlined “Inside Amazon’s plan for Alexa to run your entire life,” I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the future of AI, specifically Amazon Alexa’s AI and how they plan to automate their voice assistant.
Hao delineates the potent nature of Amazon Alexa as it currently has over 100,000 skills and how Rohit Prasad, Alexa’s head scientist, envisions Alexa’s future as they are looking towards providing a proactive experience for Alexa users.
Each morning, whenever I want to listen to a TED Talk while getting ready in the bathroom, I always have to use the wake word, “Alexa,” several times. Turning down the volume to avoid waking up my family, switching the TED Talk to an interesting talk and asking Alexa who the TED Talk speaker is, require me to use the wake word, “Alexa,” to individually make these requests.
Understanding Karen Hao’s Article
This passive interaction with Alexa becomes repetitive for the user. Therefore, Prasad and his team are looking toward ways to further automate Alexa to the extent where Alexa’s prevalence encompasses all aspects of life — ranging from ordering another cake mix on Amazon.com or checking the status of a check in a bank account.
Overall, Hao conveys to readers the potential of a drastic improvement of AI in Alexa, but these advancements require extensive planning, testing and research. Another valid drawback, privacy issues also pose a core disadvantage to consider, especially since users have no idea where their data will go.
Oftentimes, when a new program or software prompts its user to agree to its terms and conditions, the program impresses the audience with technical terminology and long documents so that the user does not feel inclined to read the fine print.
Who reads the hundreds of pages of terms and conditions whenever installing a new program on their laptop?
My Personal Reflection: AI & Personal Privacy
My thoughts align with Hao’s viewpoint. Amazon Alexa has the potential to increase the efficiency of its users’ day-to-day lives, but there are also a lot of privacy issues that require extensive research before being released to Alexa users. As a current user of Amazon Alexa, I’m excited at the prospect of seeing Alexa in my day-to-day life as long as Amazon thoroughly outlines how they plan on protecting the user’s privacy.
Reflecting on my personal usage of technology on a day-to-day basis, I’m a bit paranoid sitting in my bedroom with my Mac’s Siri always ready to jump in when needed, my iPhone’s Siri also waiting to help when needed and my Amazon Alexa Echo Dot waiting for me to say “Alexa”.
Each day, Apple and Amazon collect my data and information, whether it be listening in on my Zoom calls or my casual FaceTime calls with friends.
They’re always listening.
I never realized how much these AI-driven voice assistants shape my life, from the moment that I hop out of bed. I always ask my Alexa what the weather will be like or to either play me popular music or a trending TED talk in the morning. The only way that Alexa can tailor these responses so specifically to me is by getting to know me, and to get to know me, the tradeoff comes at the cost of privacy.