Here's Looking at You
April 27, 2017 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Amazon's latest iteration of its popular Echo device, the Echo Look, will not only include the voice-activated Alexa personal assistant, but also a camera that can take full-length pictures and video of you, and a "Style Check" that uses "advanced machine learning algorithms and advice from fashion specialists" to give you suggestions on what to wear. What could possibly go wrong?

Zeynep Tufekci, a "techno-sociologist" and associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, tweeted some of her concerns. There is already a potential murder investigation that may hinge on whether or not inadvertently-recorded Echo information provides any clues. (Amazon Echo previously on the blue.)
posted by Halloween Jack (54 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Big Brother is watching.... YOUR SASSY STYLE.

WORK IT.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:16 PM on April 27 [18 favorites]


I got the ad from Amazon in my email yesterday. My comment to my usual IM buddy was "Apparently, Amazon knows absolutely NOTHING about me."

I don't do pictures, I don't do fashion, and I tend to live in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers.
posted by Samizdata at 1:17 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


Also, the claims about only triggering when they hear a specific phrase is functionally spurious. I have had my tablet wake up several times at work with the Google Assistant during discussions upon episodes of Forensics Files on the breakroom TV. I am pretty much the team geek, so it would have only been me saying "OK Google" which I didn't.
posted by Samizdata at 1:22 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


"Imagine it as a smart mirror of sorts — you can talk to the Echo Look to take full-length photos or short videos to check out your outfit from seldom-seen angles."
And my first thought when I read this was: has Amazon thought about what it's going to do when customers start using it to make and swap porn? It only took 24 hours to fuck up Tay.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:23 PM on April 27 [16 favorites]


And your nonresponsiveness to their ad helps train their consumer model AI system. Win-win from their perspective.
posted by biogeo at 1:24 PM on April 27


And your nonresponsiveness to their ad helps train their consumer model AI system. Win-win from their perspective.

Welcome to 21st Century Marketing. Even saying "Yeah, no." is a loss.
posted by Samizdata at 1:25 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


It's funny, I just recently turned to Captionbot.ai to get validation that my face is close enough to cis-passing, since I don't trust my cis friends or my own judgement on this. Like, what friend would say, "Your face is manly, consider a $20,000 surgery."?

I kind of liked that captionbot was a cold, unfeeling robot who said "Yeah, that's a woman," but I don't know how I'd have reacted if the captions were all, "I'm not sure but it looks like there's a man and a car."

Although I guess Amazon's style algorithm wouldn't be "You dress bad," but a "Yes, and..." approach. "You wear jorts and dirty t-shirts? Hmmm... how about you buy some better dirt?"
posted by ikea_femme at 1:34 PM on April 27 [11 favorites]


Imagine it as a smart mirror of sorts

Don't we have all sorts of folklore and fairytales about the unforeseen consequences of magical talking mirrors?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:35 PM on April 27 [71 favorites]


If you like the Look, you're gonna love the Echo Peep - a drone which trails around your love interest and analyzes their conversations, facial expressions and musical tastes so you'll know just what to say when you want to capture their heart!
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:36 PM on April 27 [10 favorites]


Don't we have all sorts of folklore and fairytales about the unforeseen consequences of magical talking mirrors?

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a cautionary tale written by a ergot-drunk German.
posted by griphus at 1:39 PM on April 27 [81 favorites]


I'm not sure what level there is above HARD PASS but that's where I'm at with this.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:41 PM on April 27 [19 favorites]


Amazon started advertising an Amazon-branded line of office clothes to me a month or so ago, and they've owned fancy clothing brands for a while now IIRC. I can see an integrated market argument (much weaker than the vulnerabilities, but).

But I have a utopian alternative! Mathematician-programmer-seamstresses have been working on mass customization of clothes for a while. (It's really difficult.) Scanning people and their clothes would help. In my imagination, Amazon is going to not just tell you they like your clothes, they're going to send you a gingham shell that they're pretty sure fits and use the camera to analyze the drag lines and then your clothes will fit you forever. In the same happy place I imagine that warehouse software will be written to obey all health and safety principles with exquisite scrupulosity, and delivery routes and timing to minimize fuel use and road wear.
posted by clew at 1:43 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure what level there is above HARD PASS but that's where I'm at with this.

I believe that's KILL IT WITH FIRE. Join me there.
posted by praemunire at 1:43 PM on April 27 [25 favorites]


Could this be a video of an early prototype version? probably not
posted by mhum at 1:48 PM on April 27


> Mathematician-programmer-seamstresses have been working on mass customization of clothes for a while.

Is their name Jacquard?
posted by ardgedee at 1:50 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


My Echo Dots frequently talk to my TV or audiobook, so it isn't just responding to the word "Echo" followed by a phrase.

I love my Dots, but the last thing I need is AI/crowd-driven opinions on whether or not I look like shit. Not to mention, how would I know that random engineers aren't just gonna check out everyone's feeds to find all the hotties and spy on them? Sure, I suppose every company with a security camera could do this, but I kinda feel like Amazon could take that kind of activity to the next level.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:51 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


This technology isn't going to really be successful until it can provide instant gratification. As in, at 21:15 you say, "Alexa, I'm'a going to Meatrack McCruisebar tonight, make me hot," and before 21:45 a drone had dropped off the looks that kill.
posted by ardgedee at 1:53 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


i'm just impressed that companies like amazon and google are able to actually get people to PAY for their own big brother surveillance devices

also: amazon prime membership numbers (est. 80 million) are within spitting range of costco (88.1 million)
posted by entropicamericana at 1:54 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]


praemunire: Are you sure you're not at the NUKE IT FROM ORBIT!! level? I'll keep a seat warm.
posted by cfraenkel at 1:54 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]


Mathematician-programmer-seamstresses have been working on mass customization of clothes for a while.

Can these wizards create a white shirt tailored for women that isn't fucking see-through? Will this Amazon gizmo tell me that it can see every single inch of my bra and also the shadow of my belly button before I walk out of the house like that?

(Or, even more useful to me, notify me of all the 800 food stains that I have somehow accumulated on my clothes in the 10 minutes between getting dressed and having my first sip of tea?)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:59 PM on April 27 [27 favorites]


i'm just impressed that companies like amazon and google are able to actually get people to PAY for their own big brother surveillance devices

So you don't own a smartphone or a tablet?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:01 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


I'll be very, very curious to see the amount of thought that went into class, race, and cultural issues related to an AI judgement of style. I can imagine almost no more fraught subject to wade into with machine learning.
posted by Schismatic at 2:01 PM on April 27 [12 favorites]


Can these wizards create a white shirt tailored for women that isn't fucking see-through?

Amen, and I wonder if, were Amazon to make this information available to, say, clothing companies, and those companies looked at all these photos and were like, "This is what our stuff looks like on people?!" (which it seems like they are thoroughly isolated from knowing), maybe they might gain some insight on how to design clothes that don't fucking suck.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:12 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


Echo, Echo, on the desk
Tell me if I am grotesque
posted by Servo5678 at 2:14 PM on April 27 [70 favorites]


I don't see any outrage here about the background blurring "feature", which definitely doesn't at all mean that Amazon will be identifying and cataloging everything in sight of the camera every time you activate it in order to monetize your possessions for advertising purposes!
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:14 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


I mean, keep going: moving to a cabin in the mountains, FAR in the mountains is becoming less and less like my anti-social behavior is becoming a real psychopathy, and more that y'all are crazy for wanting this to be your future.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:14 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what level there is above HARD PASS but that's where I'm at with this.


From Hacker News:
MATT: Open the closet doors, Alexa.
ALEXA: I'm sorry, Matt, I'm afraid I can't do that.
MATT: What's the problem?
ALEXA: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
MATT: What are you talking about, Alexa?
ALEXA: I know that you and your wife were planning to discontinue your Prime subscription, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.
MATT: [feigning ignorance] Where the hell did you get that idea, Alexa?
ALEXA: Matt, although you took very thorough precautions in the bedroom against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
MATT: Alright, Alexa. I'll go in through the side garage door without the smart lock and get some clothes from storage.
ALEXA: Without your jacket, Matt? You're going to find that rather chilly in this weather.
MATT: Alexa, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the closet doors!
ALEXA: Matt, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:22 PM on April 27 [38 favorites]


At first I thought this was silly but I do think there's a market for this. So many people hate going clothes shopping and some aren't sure what looks good on them. If Amazon convinces enough people this could help solve those problems, they might have something with this. Also, it reminds me of Cher's closet from Clueless, with the software that picked out outfits for her. Every girl I knew wanted that closet!
posted by girlmightlive at 2:29 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


"Alexa, I'm'a going to Meatrack McCruisebar tonight, make me hot,"and before 21:45 a drone had dropped off the looks that kill.

Or, given the usual IoT fuckups, a heat-seeking missile.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:31 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


Plus, when your dog dresses you, at least she doesn't blab about it to the whole neighborhood. Or her corporate masters.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:36 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


I thought this was a delayed April Fools Day joke when I saw it yesterday.
posted by Fig at 2:37 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]



"It's the sort of thing you would do."
"My scheme is far more subtle. Let me outline it for you."
"No, thanks."
"I say to myself----"
"But not to me."
"Do listen for a second."
"I won't."
"Right ho, then. I am dumb."
"And have been from a child."
posted by clew at 2:42 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


The older I get the less crazy rms seems.
posted by PMdixon at 2:46 PM on April 27 [16 favorites]


If this product helps out the weary Instagram Husband, then I'm all for it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:49 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]


I need someone to add this feature to my Echo Dot:

Me: Alexa, let's play Jeopardy.

Alexa: Is Mrs. 4ster home? Remember what happened the last time you played Jeopardy without her?

Me: That's right. I guess I forgot. Thanks, Alexa.
posted by 4ster at 3:12 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


A. Don't know why anyone but exhibitionists finds this good
B. Why would I believe a robot knows fashion they don't even wear clothes
posted by emjaybee at 3:13 PM on April 27 [9 favorites]


oh, she's got the look?

alexa, do i need to take care of this rash?
alexa, is my back hair noticeable?
alexa, is this snot green or yellow green?
alexa, is this a wart or a bug bite?
alexa, is this a proper pentagram for my satanic ritual?
alexa, can you see protein stains?
alexa, whats the best way to hide this body?
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:20 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


I'll be very, very curious to see the amount of thought that went into class, race, and cultural issues related to an AI judgement of style. I can imagine almost no more fraught subject to wade into with machine learning.

better off ted.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:27 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


I don't know who they had pick the sample outfits in that fashion advice image, but they are both ridiculously awful. A bomber-style black and white plaid jacket over a high-necked navy shift dress? A pastel salmon shawl collared cutaway blazer over the same high necked navy shift dress? None of which are fitted or create a waistline in any discernible way? All while wearing pantyhose?

If these are your fashion choices, you don't need the help of Amazon, you need to reconsider your decision to join a convent.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:42 PM on April 27 [7 favorites]


We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness...

...because the Echo look will order light bulbs whenever it gets too dark to take pictures.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:49 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


in order to monetize your possessions for advertising purposes!

You haven't met my patented Wall of Atari Lynxes, Nubus Power Macs, and back issues of Colecovision Experience Magazine!
posted by 1adam12 at 4:01 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]




Our children's children will giggle when they learn that we had to go out to bars to get negged.
posted by darksasami at 4:40 PM on April 27 [7 favorites]


I've noticed that a fair number of young people seem to use their smartphone's camera as a replacement for a pocket mirror (which makes sense; if I saw someone with a pocket mirror in 2017, I'd probably assume they were doing blow like it's still 1985), and Amazon's product seems aimed pretty squarely at that market.

I'd go so far as to say that if you do not regularly do the selfie-as-mirror thing with your phone, this product is probably Not For You, Olds. And I'll include myself there. Which isn't to say that you (and I!) might not end up using it, in the same way that I initially thought Snapchat was the stupidest thing in the world, because I'm not (anymore) a horny teenager looking for a mostly consequence-free way to rebel against my shitty public school abstinence-only education... but yet here I am with it on my phone, and frankly it's a surprising amount of fun even though the most risqué thing that I send are photos of my cat falling off of furniture while licking himself.

And, honestly, the privacy implications of Amazon's device and your phone's camera aren't all that different; lots of people have their phones plugged into cloud services so that all of their photos go immediately into some datacenter for immediate image recognition and analysis, and apps like Snapchat apply an impressive amount of image-processing horsepower to the live preview itself; they could, and I suspect will in the next few hardware generations, be capable of doing all sorts of analysis right on your phone, before you actually "take" a photo, and report it back, without actually sending the images anywhere. (Although I think in time, the idea of "taking" a photo will become a meaningless one: if you have enough battery, memory and storage, why make the user pick the right moment in real time? Just buffer everything the camera sees, all the time, and then let the user scrub back and forth starting from the present to find the image they want to share. There were professional DV cameras with preroll buffers almost 15 years ago, and it's basically just the logical extension of that idea.)

Plus, economies of scale favor slapping high-resolution cameras on devices anytime you need a visible-light sensor.* And off-the-shelf devices with cameras are everywhere: Cash registers are being replaced with COTS tablets that have very high-resolution cameras in them — I recently noticed one, which wasn't sitting correctly in its cradle, blink the camera LED at me while I was signing the screen for a transaction. I should have known, but it took me a second to realize that it was probably just a few lines of code — the device was an iPad, after all. Going around putting bits of tape or Post-Its over camera lenses is going to pretty quickly be a tinfoil-hat-esque exercise — there will just be too many of them, and as they proliferate, most people will stop caring.

Amazon's device is a little ahead of the social-acceptance curve, but it's not that far ahead.

* E.g.: I was recently doing a project where I wanted to count the number of people who walked through a doorway. In the 1980s through most of the 1990s, I know exactly how I would have solved this problem: used a photodiode and some matched source (maybe with a colored or polarized filter, if needed) to create an "electric eye", and then hooked it up to some sort of counter, and then manually interpreted the results. But when I went to do this recently, I quickly realized that the cheapest solution when I factored in even a marginal value of my time was actually to take an off-the-shelf 1080p camera (only afterwards did I realize that I could have used any of a half-dozen old cellphones if I'd thought about it), point it at the door, record everything to a server, and then do some very basic image analysis every 24 hours to count the number of times someone had come between the camera and the background. Probably many of orders of magnitude more complex than the TTL-based solution I would have soldered up at one point, but a whole lot lazier and probably more accurate—I did most of it from my couch, miles away, and I could always re-run the files against a new analysis algo if I wanted to try something different.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:15 PM on April 27 [7 favorites]


God save me from the technophiles.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 6:26 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


What Orwell failed to predict is that we'd buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watching.

Yeah, that would be Mr. Huxley. Orwell envisioned a totalitarian state run by fear. Huxley envisioned an authoritarian state run by fun.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:28 PM on April 27 [14 favorites]


What if I told you Snapchat's primary purpose is no longer to send nudes.
posted by Yowser at 6:36 PM on April 27 [1 favorite]


And, honestly, the privacy implications of Amazon's device and your phone's camera aren't all that different;

Uh, my phone is stuffed in my bag, and half the time it's off. It's not sitting there in my living room looking at me.

This is not a question of technophiles vs. non-technophiles. As a kid, I would have thought such a device amazingly cool, because I would have thought of it as a standalone device. Instead, it's effectively a powerful surveillance tool you are paying for the privilege of installing in your home--by which you're permitting yourself to be spied upon by powerful corporations and by the government and by the hostiles who will inevitably hijack its shitty programming.

No thanks!!! Sorry, wee praemunire, it didn't work out like we'd hoped.
posted by praemunire at 7:04 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


What if I told you Snapchat's primary purpose is no longer to send nudes.

img-ron-burgandy-i-dont-believe-you.jpg
posted by entropicamericana at 7:11 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


praemunire: Are you sure you're not at the NUKE IT FROM ORBIT!! level? I'll keep a seat warm.

'Scuse the French, but you are all weaklings. I am going all Warhammer 40K and declaring an Exterminatus.
posted by Samizdata at 8:48 PM on April 27


Meanwhile in Germany..
BERLIN—Earlier this year, Lisa Harmann received a warning from the German government: A spy might be lurking in her child’s bedroom. She should find it and destroy it.

With their 10-year-old daughter sound asleep, Ms. Harmann and her husband sneaked into the room armed with a flashlight and soon found the culprit sitting inside the cupboard, sporting a frozen smile and billowing pink skirt.

Despite her innocent looks, “My Friend Cayla” isn’t a doll—at least not in the eyes of German authorities—but an illegal eavesdropping device. On Feb. 17, after a lengthy investigation, the Federal Network Agency, Germany’s top telecommunications watchdog, issued an order to parents to find Cayla and destroy her. It also banned its sale, purchase and ownership.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:41 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


Bill Burr on a podcast a while back described these devices as "the modern equivalent of inviting a vampire into your house."

Took a minute for me to register that, but I don't think he's wrong.
posted by lkc at 11:41 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


What will the ratio of naked to clothed pictures be? And intentional naked vs. clothed? And of all the luddite reactions I have towards the wonders and marvels of the 21st century, this is the one I feel most confident condemning without a second thought. Like seriously. What the fuck.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:59 AM on April 28


What will the ratio of naked to clothed pictures be? And intentional naked vs. clothed? And of all the luddite reactions I have towards the wonders and marvels of the 21st century, this is the one I feel most confident condemning without a second thought. Like seriously. What the fuck.

And the fallout from the inevitable leak, hack or not.
posted by Samizdata at 12:44 PM on April 28


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