From Smart Speaker to Potential Phone Replacement: Amazon Echo and Google Home

The article on Engadget titled Amazon Echo and Google Home Want to Be Your New House Phone consider the perks and downsides of Amazon and Google adding making and receiving phone calls to the functions of their respective smart speakers. The article states,

Amazon and Google could introduce the ability to make and receive calls on their respective platforms later this year. The companies could make use of their existing communication platforms, since Amazon already has the business-focused videoconferencing tool Chime. Meanwhile, Google has Hangouts, Duo, and… Google Voice. Incorporating existing VoIP services like Skype and Vonage into their devices may be another way to go. Echo and Home could also have their own phone numbers, or the option to sync an existing number…

So what is standing in the way of this major cell phone disruption? Privacy concerns, for one thing. A key part of the technology of both platforms is a constant recording microphone ready to be activated by the proper voice command at any moment. The article points out that the eavesdropping data saved by one of these devices is already embroiled in an Arkansas murder investigation. There are other issues, like the device potentially failing to differentiate between a command and a term mentioned in a phone conversation, but privacy is the one that might actually prevent customers from buying the technology.

Chelsea Kerwin, March 7, 2017

AI Fear Mongering?

Huffpost Tech exclaims, “Google’s New AI Becomes ‘Highly Aggressive’ to Get What It Wants.” Is the robot rebellion beginning? Reporter Oscar Williams describes an experiment wherein two DeepMind agents learned to compete for a limited number of virtual apples—by pulling out virtual lasers. He writes:

Without using the laser beams, they would end up with equal numbers of apples, so the aggression was rewarded. And the more sophisticated the neural network, the more aggressive the agents became.

In another game, however, in which cooperation was rewarded, the AIs … cooperated. The software, it seems, will adapt to each situation—which is just what we want it to do. As for aggressively pursuing “what it wants,” remember that depends entirely on what programmers have specified.

Cynthia Murrell, March 1, 2017