Just How Dangerous Is Alexa?

By Bob Sacks

Fri, Jan 20, 2017

Just How Dangerous Is Alexa?

BoSacks Speaks Out: With all the articles and suspicions about fake news, fake ads and fake people (bots) and the fears contained within those concepts, I thought this article, although distant from a direct connection to the usual topics I cover in this newsletter, is still about information distribution, which is exactly what everyone on this list does. We all distribute information in one way or another.

For the two of you on this list of 16,000, who don’t know what an Amazon Echo – or like devices – are, here is my explanation. They are the actual representation of the long ago promised Star Trek technology of verbally communicating with a computer. Yes, they are like Siri. But from my experience, Amazon Echo is 5x better in understanding context and, more importantly, the delivery of sought-after information requested in the question. I have two in my home and am considering getting another. I happily use them every day.

A question for publishers might be, does it take my time away from reading? No, not yet, but it could. It has supplanted much of my morning radio time. I don’t yet use it to listen to audio books, but the Echo has the capacity for audio books too. In the kitchen using the Echo, I listen to NPR for news or music on Spotify. It can find recipes, sports scores, weather, and all sorts of eclectic information. One of my favorite things it does on my command is to add items to my shopping list, which then immediately appear on my and my wife’s phone in the app. We in this house ask it questions on a regular basis, and once in while we ask it to tell us a joke. It responds to everyone in the house from grandkids to grandparents and those in-between. It can adjust the heat or air conditioning, turn lights on or off, and other domestic infrastructure chores.

Clearly this is just the beginning, and the Echo and the Internet of Things (IOT) will be increasingly embedded into all our lives. On June 29th, 2007, less than 10 years ago, the iPhone was first released at a time when not too many people had or wanted a cell phone. Now there are more cell phones then there are people on the planet. My point is this: since it is a communication tool, publishers everywhere need to understand what intelligent voice control system (IVCS) are, what it does and if they should get involved in the process.

This is not yet a threat to publishing as we knew it, but it is something Mary Meeker needs to add to her list of time spent with media. There will be increasingly more time spent with devices like these for “readers” seeking the information we used to supply.

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