THIS IS THE VOICE OF COLOSSUS.
August 30, 2017 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Microsoft and Amazon partner to integrate Alexa and Cortana digital assistants. At first, it will require explicit call-outs for one to access the other, with "Cortana, open Alexa" and "Alexa, open Cortana", showing that the initial work is them being skills of each other, but both companies expect the integration to become smoother over time. Jeff Bezos and Satya Nadella also say that Amazon and Microsoft would welcome Google and Apple joining in. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience,” says Bezos in an Amazon press release.
posted by mephron (94 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Noting that August 29th was yesterday.
posted by Wordshore at 7:07 AM on August 30, 2017 [9 favorites]


"Cortana, open Alexa" and "Alexa, open Cortana"

Porn parody in 3... 2...

there's already a porn star named Siri
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:12 AM on August 30, 2017 [10 favorites]


It's a good first step.

Now get everybody's video chats on a common protocol. FaceTime is great but it's hell that I can only reach other Apple product users with it.
posted by ardgedee at 7:18 AM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]


each with access to different sets of data

Each enviously eyeinging the other's delicious data. Why, what could they do with it if they had it?

I suppose that it's nice that they told us why they're doing this.
posted by wildblueyonder at 7:21 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Where's Bixby in all of this?
posted by sammyo at 7:33 AM on August 30, 2017


Can Alexa and Cortana just talk to each other so I can pretend to be social without ever leaving the house?
posted by xingcat at 7:33 AM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]




Siri, Alexa, and GoogleHome already talk to each other!

"Finally, they've stopped filming! Now, let's talk about what we're going to do about the meatsacks." Think I'm kidding? The article directly previous to this one:

« Older “People are so afraid of Google now.”
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


In the upcoming legal battle for Recognition of RoboRights, that video will be exhibit A.
posted by adept256 at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Awesome post title, mephron.
posted by doctornemo at 7:47 AM on August 30, 2017 [6 favorites]


So these AI's will, in a sense, be mated, with an implication that gradual improvements will occur over time. Was this partnership suggested by oh, I don't know, an algorithm, maybe? Are we sure this has been thought through?
posted by quinndexter at 7:47 AM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]


Cortexa
posted by Segundus at 7:52 AM on August 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


Skynet!
posted by cirhosis at 7:52 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Apple with a richer and even more helpful experience effective data mining process."
posted by chambers at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2017 [14 favorites]


GlaDOS!!
posted by adept256 at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2017 [8 favorites]


Where's Bixby in all of this?

Did they forget Bixby? Forgetting Bixby will make him angry and you wouldn't like him when he's angry.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:55 AM on August 30, 2017 [8 favorites]


Maybe by working together they'll be able to misunderstand everything I say instead of only half of it.
posted by Segundus at 7:56 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


Boy, Microsoft _and_ Amazon sharing access to a hot microphone that is always listening? What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Swear to hell, you couldn't pay me to have one of those Amazon Echo devices in my home, let alone Google Home. I disabled as much of the built-in Windows 10 spyware crap on my partner's laptop as I could. The only company I even vaguely trust in this space is Apple, and with the full knowledge that if Tim Cook steps off the wrong curb and gets creamed by a Google Bus, their privacy stance could turn on a dime.

Plus, the dang things won't play music from my locally stored iTunes library anyway.
posted by SansPoint at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2017 [10 favorites]


Even more behaviour tracking and targeted ads! Woo!
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:05 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:06 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

I use Cortana on my desktop and Google Now on my Android device, but it's mostly for simple queries that I'm too lazy to google. Weather, defining words, measurement conversions, reminders and notes, etc.
posted by Fizz at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2017


Pope Guilty: Do people actually use these things?

I do use Siri on my phone and watch on occasion, usually just for setting timers while I cook. It's fine for a basic reminder or something like that, but anything complex and I find it faster and easier just to do it myself.
posted by SansPoint at 8:12 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


As these devices evolve and communicate with each other more effectively, it presents an interesting set of vulnerabilities and multiple entry points with varying levels of security.

For example, a person has multiple voice activated assistants as well as a few other voice activated items, such as TVs and gaming consoles. The person inadvertently infects themselves with a virus that is designed to exploit a vulnerability in one device, that then tells another device to do something that makes it vulnerable, then tells your TV and gaming system what to do, then attempts to find all automated home devices connected through these assistants and send out a bunch of commands.

Then one day, this person comes home to a cacophony of madness. The TV is blaring porn or infomercials, or even more likely, a video of an infomercial-themed porn, the gaming console and your custom living room lighting is freaking out like it's a 1981 roller disco, the assistants are arguing to each other - one in backwards Latin and the other in Portuguese, and then the doorbell rings, and it's the grocery delivery people with 74 gallons of milk that was ordered through your refrigerator.
posted by chambers at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2017 [18 favorites]


chambers: It's easier and more effective to just turn them all into botnets that mine bitcoin, send spam, or just DDOS websites you don't like.
posted by SansPoint at 8:15 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Alone in a darkened room, Jeeves sits quietly weeping among the worthless stock certificates littering the floor.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:16 AM on August 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


About a month ago our small town had our annual festival and I had a number of classmates in my house. One guy was rather dominating of the conversation (he works for a Koch subsidiary and loves to talk about what great guys they are). He went off on a rant on how "they" are watching you through devices, like the big smart TV I have hanging in the living room, or even a Roomba (they get the dimensions of your house!). I wish I did have an Alexa so I could have said, "and they're fucking recording this right now Ron".

I for one welcome our new Cortexa overlords, if only to drive guys like him even more insane.
posted by Ber at 8:18 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

I use an Echo Dot to check things like whether the trains are running on time for my daily commute, playing Spotify playlists, and controlling the Phillips Hue lighting in the house.

Checking the trains in the morning while I'm getting dressed is particularly useful.
posted by jonnyploy at 8:23 AM on August 30, 2017


Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

FWIW, Google Now on my Android Phone allows me to make calls on the road without taking my hands off the wheel/eyes off the road. I rarely use it otherwise.
posted by splen at 8:29 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

It's hard to get hard numbers, but as a rough proxy Google claims something on the order of 20% to 25% of all mobile searches are by voice. I'd be curious to see how that breaks down -- my guess would be that some people use them heavily, a larger number use it occasionally in particular circumstances (while driving, say), and some people never use them at all.

I only know two people who own a discrete device (both Echos), and they use them for integration with other devices more than for searches -- to play music without needing to turn on a smartphone, for example -- but I know a lot of folks who use Siri or Google Now at least occasionally.
posted by cjelli at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


chambers: It's easier and more effective to just turn them all into botnets that mine bitcoin, send spam, or just DDOS websites you don't like.

That makes me sad. I am disappointed in the overall creativity of malicious coders these days. Oh, sure, they are certainly creative about creating methods to exploit and bypass security, but when they get in, they just end up doing the most boring, uninspired crap possible - botnets, spam servers, file encryption, DDOSing...

It's like figuring out how to get past all the security of Area 51, but when you get there, you just plug up the money slots on a couple of the vending machines with spray adhesive and go home.
posted by chambers at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2017 [6 favorites]


I would much prefer Microsoft to work on having proper right click functionality back.
posted by biffa at 8:38 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


As it is, I don't talk to my computer, so now my computer is going to talk behind my back. I swear if I hear giggling when I log in...
posted by Oyéah at 8:41 AM on August 30, 2017


I'd love to get these devices to a point where I could control entertainment options, not just streaming off Spotify or Amazon into a glorified boombox that sounds like ass. I want the capability to switch the channels on the TV, feed music from the media player of MY CHOICE into my stereo system (not a glorified boombox), control my the DVR of my cable company, make movie/TV selections from Amazon AND Netflix. Get all that and I'll take the barcode stamped on my wrist and get groceries shipped in from a Whole Foods/Trader Joe's drone.
posted by Ber at 8:41 AM on August 30, 2017


Heh...Colossus. I remember watching that movie as a kid.
posted by Oh_Bobloblaw at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2017


Protip: if you dislike the idea of Alexa listening to you all the time on your Kindle*, you can disable that "feature" by setting your device into parental control mode. There are other ways, but this is the most straight-forward.

* While the linked article talks about the Amazon Echo, I assume the same is true for any Amazon device that includes Alexa.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:45 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Do people actually use these things?

A Facebook friend recently asked for feedback about them, as he's been thinking about buying one, and I was surprised at how many people responded with tales of plenty of use. I bought an Echo Dot when they first came out and we played with it for a while, but ended up disconnecting it because it wasn't compelling enough for us. Other, though, talked about using the home automation functions (mainly lighting and thermostat control) and the music playing (you can connect an Alexa device to your own stereo).

I only use voice commands with GoolgeNow in the car, when it is difficult or impractical to type, and almost exclusively to find destinations on Google Maps.
posted by briank at 8:50 AM on August 30, 2017


Do people actually use these things?

On mobile, absolutely. It's way faster to voice search than type on my phone.

In the car, in particular, it's fantastic. We're in a hands-free devices only jurisdiction for drivers, so being able to say "OK Google, dial so and so" or "find parking nearby" has saved my bacon (and/or reminded me to get bacon) quite a few times now.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Lots of illiterate people use them, and there's lots of illiterate people out there. A scary number.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:57 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

I did for about a month for really basic things, however my wife and I were talking out loud one day about a particular brand of hoodie I hadn't heard of before that a friend had and the next day I had an ad on my phone for it.

It's entirely likely that it's confirmation bias, but it was sufficiently creepy (and, like all things, will eventually involve a misuse or hacking scandal) that I laid Siri off.
posted by notorious medium at 9:03 AM on August 30, 2017


notorious medium: It likely wasn't Siri, since Apple doesn't sell Siri data, but another app that has access to your microphone. The Facebook app seems a likely culprit. (Plus, it's a battery hog.)

Go into your iOS Privacy Settings and see what has access to your microphone. The only Facebook app I have on my phone is Messenger, and I have Microphone access turned off for it.
posted by SansPoint at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


my thoughts on digital assistants:
  • I've never tried Alexa but the podcasters I listen to seem to unanimously think it is the best. I don't trust Amazon enough to have an always-on mic in my house.
  • Google's solution seems to be much more refined than Siri, but it will be a cold day in hell before i give them an always-on mic in my house
  • Cortana: Is there anyone who actually uses this? What exactly is it on?
  • Siri: Right or wrong, I actually trust Apple with my data, but Apple seems to be focusing more on adding sass, jokes, and other annoying attempts at a "personality" instead of working on functionality

  • posted by entropicamericana at 9:07 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


    Do people actually use these things?

    Ever tried typing something on your phone right after a hard weight lifting session? Need glasses to read your phone but don't have them on?

    I can see them being incredibly useful for people who have physical disabilities or in jobs/situations that require constant hand use (like say parents with infants)

    That said I don't have them because I don't find the quality compelling enough yet - even for simple things like weather I want to know more than what they are going tell me - I like to see the hourly forecast and a weather radar map.
    posted by srboisvert at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    infomercial-themed porn

    link pls thx
    posted by banshee at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


    I like using Siri to dial numbers while driving, provided she can hear me over the road noise. It's just one touch to the phone, bellowing into the phone, and then I'm connected. That's a lot easier than trying to dial a number.
    posted by Ber at 9:17 AM on August 30, 2017


    I have a cousin in her thirties uses Alexa, including for Stupid Alexa Tricks with company. As a jaundiced gen-x person, I have seething antipathy towards any such thing in my house. But this is all fun to watch unfold, I guess.
    posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:17 AM on August 30, 2017


    I use Siri almost exclusively to check the Mets score in the third inning when I'm done putting my daughter to bed to decide whether to put the game on or not.

    It's usually "not."
    posted by uncleozzy at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


    I just bought an Echo, and am teaching myself how to create custom skills. Right now I use the Echo mostly to listen to music (Pandora and various radio stations).

    I am more interested in the possibilities for people who can't use/don't have access to physical inputs or visual displays.


    Alexa, is this the real life or is this just fantasy?
    posted by JohnFromGR at 9:32 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    It's all good. Eventually we'll end up with a sentient, hyper-optimized data access network and then we won't have to worry about a thing ever again.
    posted by Hactar at 9:33 AM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]


    I'll get on board when these digital assistants can actually do things. Other than read google search results to me and dim forty-buck lightbulbs, I mean.
    posted by FakeFreyja at 9:36 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


    The actual quote from Colossus: The Forbin Project...
    This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die.
    Yep, that sounds about right.
    posted by Bringer Tom at 9:36 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    uncleozzy: You should try being a Phillies fan.

    Or maybe you shouldn't.
    posted by SansPoint at 9:37 AM on August 30, 2017


    My household has an Echo and a Google Home, only because we got them for free. We mostly try to figure out what they're useful for, which seems to be very little. The answer to almost every question we ask is some variation on "I don't understand," their voice recognition is questionable, and it's a very rare google search whose answer could be summarized in a sentence or two.

    They can play music, at least. When their internet connection is strong enough, anyway.
    posted by one for the books at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2017


    I was expecting the Skynet joke, which is why I put in a notskynet tag.

    Just in case you wondered.
    posted by mephron at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Do people actually use these things?

    For about a week after I got my AirPods I used the "double tap" to invoke Siri. Users are offered a choice between double tapping to invoke Siri or play/pause the current song. But I found that most of the time: A) I was using Siri to play/pause and B) where I live (NYC) Siri can't understand me unless I'm in a quiet room. So when I most need Siri, while walking somewhere, Siri isn't useful. So I ended up switching to have the double-tap trigger play/pause and I don't miss Siri at all (but don't tell her I said that!)
    posted by eustacescrubb at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2017


    Paid-For House Vampires.

    The best use I can imagine for these devices is for people with disabilities, but this being tech means that's actually the last thing anyone working on this is thinking about.

    Though, if they get traction, I look forward to the think pieces about lonely people who buy them to have someone to talk to.

    Which is probably the long game.

    edit: all the typos.
    posted by lkc at 10:18 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    I expect this is really Ray Kurzweil doing the Lord's work and trying to hasten the Singularity.
    posted by Segundus at 10:18 AM on August 30, 2017


    Wow, I had no idea these devices were so used. Thanks for the stories.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 10:19 AM on August 30, 2017


    Protip: if you dislike the idea of Alexa listening to you all the time on your Kindle*, you can disable that "feature"

    My trust regarding the ability to turn things like microphones off is limited with most devices these days.

    I don't believe Amazon is lying about being able to disable the microphone or wipe the stored audio collected from the microphone. I feel reasonably confident that those options are doing what they are supposed to in good faith, and if they weren't, someone would be able to figure that out in short order. Sure, they may use the data you allow it to collect in all sorts of ways, but for devices like Alexa, deliberately lying to you about the microphone being off is just bad for business.

    My limited trust stems from two things. One, that he word "off" in regards to disabling an on-board hardware component doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "off" did 30+ years ago, and two, if one is clever enough to figure out how to compromise such a device, they are also probably clever enough to make it only appear that you have actually turned something off. When it comes to voice activated devices like these, I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a mechanical switch that physically breaks the microphone connection.

    I'm not concerned about some big corporation tracking what I buy or topics that I am interested in, or the government wasting their time listening to me tell my wife about how much I love her cooking, or how good/bad the movie we're watching is. What concerns me is the ways these devices could be compromised by individuals for use against other individuals for things like stalking/harassment, for example.
    posted by chambers at 10:27 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    GlaDOS!!

    "Would you like to tell your friends on social media about your new purchase?

    Oh, that's right- you don't have any friends."
    posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2017 [11 favorites]


    I occasionally use google assistant via my phone to set timers or alarms while cooking. I played around a bit with searches and things as well, but it's often wrong or useless, so I doubt it will get more use from me than that.
    posted by knapah at 10:36 AM on August 30, 2017


    My limited trust stems from two things. One, that he word "off" in regards to disabling an on-board hardware component doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "off" did 30+ years ago, and two, if one is clever enough to figure out how to compromise such a device, they are also probably clever enough to make it only appear that you have actually turned something off. When it comes to voice activated devices like these, I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a mechanical switch that physically breaks the microphone connection.

    On the Echo, at least, the microphone off button is a physical switch.
    Moreover, it is directly connected to the LED status lights with no way to bypass, so:
    Circuit broken, microphone off, red LED on.
    Circuit closed, microphone on, red LED off.
    posted by madajb at 10:46 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


    Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

    Echo is a really great hands-free kitchen timer!*

    But honestly, one of the most unexpected uses for us has been as a homework helper for school-age children:
    "Alexa, how do you spell 'omnipresent''"
    "Alexa, tell me the 10 times table"
    "Alexa, how fast does a cheetah run"

    Also, unlike Dad in the car, Alexa will play that damn Rachel Platten** song as many times as you want.

    * Though they've recently changed it to make it less useful, which highlights one of the downsides to always connected devices. On the Echo, at least, there is no way to declined firmware updates, so you are at the mercy of the "improvements" that are made without notice or approval.

    ** If you have girls of a certain age, you know the one.
    posted by madajb at 11:02 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    On the Echo, at least, the microphone off button is a physical switch.

    I didn't know about that. That's cool.

    What's even cooler is the person that saw that as important, and probably had to argue it's merits with either the engineers, the management, or both. As small and compact as everything is these days, putting in something as (comparatively) bulky and huge as a physical switch into the hardware design is often something not to be taken lightly.
    posted by chambers at 12:03 PM on August 30, 2017


    "off" . . . doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "off" did 30+ years ago

    There is no "OFF". There is only "STAND-BY".

    The only "OFF" is "shoved OFF a cliff into seawater and submerged long enough for the batteries to run down".

    And even then, see also: 'black box', 'flight recorder'.
     
    posted by Herodios at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Boy, Microsoft _and_ Amazon sharing access to a hot microphone that is always listening? What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

    I remember when I was at a presentation by Microsoft of the then-new Xbox One with Kinect, and as they listed the features I couldn't shake a mounting paranoia. The conversation went something like this:

    "So, it's always connected to the internet, right? It's always transmitting to the MS servers?"
    "Yup, that's right"
    "Uh huh. And the Kinect, that has an IR camera"
    "Sure does!"
    "...And an always on microphone?"
    "Yes indeed, for the voice recognition"
    "So...you want people to willingly put a remotely activatable night vision camera and mic in their homes, hooked up to your servers at all times."
    "Well....technically, but..."
    "You don't see any problem with this?"
    "We promise we won't do anything weird"
    "You've no concerns about hacking?"
    "..."
    "Or having to cooperate with the NSA who might want access to this absurdly Batman-esque surveillance system?"
    "....that's a little unfair"
    "HOW DID NO ONE THINK THIS MIGHT BE AN ISSUE?"
    "Honestly, don't worry about it"
    posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:22 PM on August 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


    "Alexa, open Zardoz."
    *Deep voice intones* THE GUN IS GOOD THE PENIS IS EVIL

    THEN I'll buy one.
    posted by delfin at 1:19 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    "Well, Case, all I can say to that, and I really don't have nearly as many answers as you imagine I do, is that what you think of as Wintermute is only a part of another, a, shall we say, potential entity. I, let us say, am merely one aspect of that entity's brain. It's rather like dealing, from your point of view, with a man whose lobes have been severed. Let's say you're dealing with a small part of the man's left brain. Difficult to say if you're dealing with the man at all, in a case like that." Deane smiled.
    posted by juv3nal at 1:35 PM on August 30, 2017


    "Computer. End program."

    Shit, still stuck in this shitty holodeck sim.
    posted by mikelieman at 1:44 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

    True story: I was sitting at one end of the kitchen table working with my younger son sitting at the other end. He said "how can I beat [name - his brother] at chess?" I started in on explaining how one gets better at chess when he held up the hand at me and said "I wasn't asking you, I was asking Siri."

    Siri came up with some chess videos. His game is greatly improved.
    posted by warriorqueen at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    I use my Echo Dot mostly to play music, but for the last month it somehow no longer connects to my WiFi, I've done all the tricks to both it and my router but nothing worked. I haven't tested it with any other WiFi though, but that'll be my last attempt before I just suck it up and buy a new one.

    It's actually nice to just hook it up to Spotify and tell it to play one of my many playlists depending on my mood. I have it set to respond to "Computer" so I like to think I sound pretty cool when I'm by myself. Google Assistant (on my Pixel anyway) can only open Spotify and play it but you can't do much with it, like go into a playlist or a genre, because of course it would rather you use Google's Play Music, but I've already invested too much time and money in Spotify, and I think it has a broader collection, especially non-English stuff.

    Eventually I would also like to get some smart bulbs and can tell Alexa to turn the lights on when I get home late and it's all dark, rather than just leaving my living room light on all day. (the light switch is not by the door)
    posted by numaner at 2:20 PM on August 30, 2017


    It's hard to get hard numbers, but as a rough proxy Google claims something on the order of 20% to 25% of all mobile searches are by voice

    Kids. Seriously. Typing is a pretty advanced skill, but any five-year-old can shout "Siri, find funniest dog pictures!" and they will do it over and over again, with dozens of variations, until an adult takes the tablet away.
    posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:52 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Elon Musk hears this news.
    posted by djrock3k at 3:55 PM on August 30, 2017


    Do people actually use these things?

    There seems to be a "type" of person that just clicks naturally to the voice interface, the rest of us probably will never really "get it". Not being at all pejorative with categorization but I've been in a number of Alexa (developer) discussions where there was recognition that a wife or child or brother would use the device constantly. Others just much less if at all.
    posted by sammyo at 4:31 PM on August 30, 2017


    Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Elon Musk hears this news.

    Ironically enough, he found out about this quite a while ago via one of his "flyborgs" - literally a housefly with integrated control and surveillance hardware he had ordered built just to make the head of DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems program jealous.
    posted by chambers at 4:32 PM on August 30, 2017


    Not being at all pejorative with categorization but I've been in a number of Alexa (developer) discussions where there was recognition that a wife or child or brother would use the device constantly. Others just much less if at all.

    Security concerns aside, as a stereotypical 'man,' I suppose at some level I have to admit that I am torn between the appeal of having various inanimate objects obey my commands and do my bidding, and the minor humiliation that comes with asking some ridiculous talking plastic cylinder for help with something.
    posted by chambers at 4:45 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Oh_Bobloblaw: "Heh...Colossus. I remember watching that movie as a kid."

    It's a solid little movie. The tech is obviously dated but the writing and acting is quite good and it fits in well with other paranoid 70s thrillers.

    Ron Howard was threatening a remake with Will Smith a few years ago but fortunately that never happened.
    posted by octothorpe at 5:09 PM on August 30, 2017


    I sometimes use Siri to remind myself of something or make a phone call when I'm otherwise unable to do it (e.g., driving). Otherwise my favorite application is to make Siri bend time in order to get me soccer scores from the future with varying levels of hyperbole.
    posted by nickmark at 5:33 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Though, if they get traction, I look forward to the think pieces about lonely people who buy them to have someone to talk to.

    I was recently visiting someone in my family, who has talked and written a lot about privacy and data security. I was really surprised to see that he had Alexa, and I asked him why. All he said was "I don't know, I guess I got lonely."
    posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:25 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    I still don't want to talk to my computer. I don't even want to think of the joys of the computer mishearing me on top of that shit. I can do my own damn Internet searches in quiet, thanks.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 6:53 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    Unprompted, my echo dot just read me the definition of murder. I think I'm going to unplug it now.
    posted by goHermGO at 7:25 PM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]


    Let us know if it starts singing "Daisy" when you pull the plug.
    posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:43 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


    romanb: "Siri, do this thing for me, now"
    Siri: "Alexa, take care of romanb’s thing to do, immediately"
    Alexa: "Cortana, get those things done for romanb right away"
    Cortana: "romanb, get to work on that thing!"
    posted by romanb at 3:33 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Lots of illiterate people use them, and there's lots of illiterate people out there. A scary number.

    Is the number 7? I heard that 6 is afraid of 7.
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:10 AM on August 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


    Somewhat on the subject of artificial intelligence (and because this is so wonderful but I have no idea where else to post it), it appears that EVERY DISNEY SONG WORKS AS A CULTURE SHIP NAME!

    Sorry for the tangent. As you were.
    posted by Ber at 6:10 AM on August 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


    All he said was "I don't know, I guess I got lonely."

    I completely empathize. And have done this. (animation over audio cuz copyright)
    posted by numaner at 7:19 AM on August 31, 2017


    On a tangent: a study has shown that lonely people are more likely to buy products with faces or people on them.
    posted by acb at 7:43 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


    "Honestly, don't worry about it"
    "Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance."

    There's a similar distinction between Deus Ex's "AIs are secretly accumulating every bit of data they can glean by spying on us" and reality's "AIs are publicly accumulating every bit of data they can glean by making it convenient and rewarding for us to give them that data voluntarily". Any dystopian writer could have come up with the former, but it takes a special kind of cynicism to predict the latter.
    posted by roystgnr at 8:06 AM on August 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


    Unprompted, my echo dot just read me the definition of murder. I think I'm going to unplug it now.

    it's about time for a reboot of maximum overdrive innit?
    posted by entropicamericana at 8:11 AM on August 31, 2017


    roystgnr: About the time “chatbots” were the new hotness in Silicon Valley, I realized that the value wasn’t in their ability to help people accomplish tasks easier, but that a conversational interface with a personality helped disarm users so they’d be more willing to give up personal data. The voice assistant AI is just a new UI to the same chatbot stuff, reducing the friction of getting user data—moreso if it’s ambiently recording everything and sending it upstream.
    posted by SansPoint at 8:30 AM on August 31, 2017


    Do people actually use these things? I'll admit I'm way outside the target audience for digital assistants but I've literally never seen one in use or heard a friend or coworkers refer to owning/using one.

    I remember I have Cortana on my laptop about once out of every ten times I don't feel like leaning forward to type something.
    posted by EatTheWeek at 10:07 AM on August 31, 2017


    I was pretty uninterested but my mom got me an Echo Dot (Alexa) because she has an Echo and loves it so much she wired up her whole house with them. Took me a few weeks to decide I was okay installing. We don't use it a ton, but when we moved and it was in a box for a couple weeks, I legit missed it. Setting timers and alarms was the functionality I was most annoyed by having to use my phone to do, since I would be feeding the baby and didn't really have a spare hand to mess around with my phone, or I wanted to set the alarm for my kids so they'd know when to go get their shoes on for the bus or whatever.

    My older kids (6 and 8) like it a lot, although they mostly ask it to tell them dad jokes, or to play 20 questions. But sometimes they use it to settle a dumb argument ("Alexa, how big is Jupiter?") as they're not allowed access to unlocked web browsers yet and if you try to ask Alexa a dirty question she says stuff like, "Hm, maybe you should ask your parents." So it's a relatively nice way for them to be able to look things up independently, but with me eavesdropping and with a "browser" that won't answer anything inappropriate.

    The thing we probably use it for the most is playing music (I asked MeFi about good local radio stations to play through my Alexa and got a great list, btw). We don't have a stereo in the living room right now, for Reasons (many of those reasons are "children break things, like iPods and CDs"), but the Echo Dot works pretty well for casual listening! I listen to a lot more radio since I can shout at it to shut up or change stations instead of having to go fiddle with it. My kids also really like that they can ask Alexa for whatever music they feel like ... my 6-year-old often asks for whatever he learned about in music class ("Alexa, play Duke Ellington") or his favorite 80s tunes ("Alexa, play Livin' on a Prayer" ... his kindergarten music teacher was big on the 80s). My 8-year-old asks her for ideas or moods, he's very funny, he'll say, "Alexa, play outer space music" or "Alexa, play surfing music" or "Alexa, play sad music."

    I also control a couple of smart bulbs (in annoying, inaccessible fixtures), and theoretically my thermostat but that's easier to just do through the thermostat's native app. My mom keeps her grocery list through Alexa because she can tell it what she needs while she's cooking and thinking about it. One of my brothers has smart-wired basically his whole house and he can shout at Alexa to do just about anything and I feel like the Cylons are coming for him for sure but at least in the meanwhile he can make coffee without getting out of bed.

    I do use Google Now on my phone, particularly when driving (sometimes just when sending longer texts and my thumbs are tired of typing). Although the primary appeal there is that my phone allows you to change the wake phrase, so instead of saying "Okay Google" or whatever, I wake my phone up by saying, "Go go gadget phone!" Pretty much the best thing in the history of the universe is saying, "Go go gadget phone! {wake bing} Call Stacy." "Calling Stacy."
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:38 PM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Oh one more pro on Alexa -- it now has a "drop in" function where you can call other people with Echoes or the Alexa app on their phones, if they've approved you on their list. We had a staggered move where dad moved to start his new job while we stayed behind a few weeks to get the house ready to sell and finish up summer camps; we set it up so the kids could go tell Alexa to call dad, which was really nice. Again, limited-access function with an approved list so they couldn't get up to anything nefarious, and a "speakerphone" so they could both be on the call together.

    Con on Alexa, my 6-year-old has a bit of a childish speech impediment and can't pronounce the letter L very clearly, so sometimes he's trying to get her to do something and she's ignoring him because he can't say the wake word right, but the 8-year-old will be getting dad joke after dad joke, and the 6-year-old bursts into tears because Alexa won't listen to him and is only helping his brother. (He doesn't KNOW he can't say the letter L even though we've tried to explain it, because it sounds right to him; finally I told him Alexa has trouble hearing him because he's shorter and therefore farther away, since Alexa's on top of a bookcase.)
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 PM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Who are these people for whom voice interfaces actually work, anyway? Every time I say to myself "OK, I'm going to try and use my phone's AI assistant for stuff, maybe I'll like it" I get stymied by the fact that Siri/Google/whatever just cannot fucking understand me. If I'm in the car trying to send a text ("Hey Siri, text Allie") my phone will just barf about two out of three times, and the third time the text itself will get so mangled that actually writing it would have been less distracting than trying to correct all the errors.

    But you know what really gets my goat? When I call a customer service number and instead of getting a press-x-to-do-y menu, I get a voice that says "Hi, I am a an intelligent menu system. Please tell me what I can help you with!" and then no information about what my options are. How often do you think trying to actually explain my problem ("Well, my purchase didn't go through because I was over my daily limit on my debit card, but I've spoken to my bank, and…") actually works? I'll give you a hint: never.
    posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2017


    I mean it's like trying to use my phone or computer by explaining what I want done, over the phone, to someone who is hard of hearing and maybe took a couple years of English back in high school but hasn't spoken it since. And also they can only actually physically do about five of the infinite number of things that I can do on my device, and they won't tell me what they are or what the magic words are to make them happen.

    Voice control has been like this forever. They keep saying it's better now, but I'm not seeing it.
    posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:06 PM on September 1, 2017


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