Amazon's Echo, in-house "Siri"-like device - love the concept or totally freaked out?

Link to Amazon’s listing for the device:

I have been hearing about the Amazon Echo since it came out a year or so ago, but it seems to be getting more attention. The NYTimes tech reporter Farhad Manjoo says this in an article today entitled "The Echo from Amazon Brims with Groundbreaking Promise

and (note that Echo is activated when you call it “Alexa”):

I know, we already live in a Surveillance Culture - if Big Brother is already in our house, why not consciously leave it always on and use it?

But the basic concept of this still freaks me out.

Anyone have one? Anyone else watching the Echo roll out and feel like George Orwell is whirling in his grave?

I have one. I haven’t used it to automate anything yet, but it’s great for setting a timer or listening to the news or an Audible audiobook. I’d like to start setting up more of the automation features, particularly turning lights on/off.

My son has a google phone, which does most or all of those things. You say, “Hey google” to wake it up and then can ask all sorts of things. I got curious (on account of the Robert Galbreath (i.e. J.K. Rowling) book I was reading) how tall Rowling was and my son said, “Hey google, how tall is J.K. Rowling?”. It answered immediately that was 5’5", thus destroying my theory that her female lead (described as very tall) was really herself. At my suggestion, he tried “Hey google, how old is mathematician Hari Seldon [substitute my real name]?” It gave the correct answer instantly. Weird? Certainly, but it doesn’t especially bother me. I could have found the same info on google, I suppose.

We’ve had one since it came out over a year ago. It is extremely useful. I have it tied to our WeMo switches in the house. I’m not concerned about the eavesdropping aspect, no more than I’m concerned about having a PayPal account or using my AMEX card to make online purchases.

My girlfriend has had one since December or so, she likes it to play music and things like that. It’s kind of funny how it does the voice recognition, sometimes it can not understand what you’re asking, I’ve had problems having it play certain songs. Sometimes it will play a song that doesn’t have the same name or the same group if it doesn’t get what you’ve asked for.

You can ask it to tell you dirty jokes and it comes back with something really dumb and something a 6-7 year old would tell. Sometimes though they are so off the wall the jokes can be funny.

You can also ask it different sexual questions and it will come back with a medical type answer. She’s asked it a couple of times to define words and it will not. She called it a bitch one time too and it said “Thank you for your feedback.” So it can be a bit sarcastic too.

She doesn’t use it for anything but music, news and weather so I don’t know how well it works for other uses.

I have had one since it first came out (I got the $99 deal). I use it a lot but only for music and weather! Oh and sometimes a shopping list. I listen to music every day.

A lot of the stuff you have to “install” like an app. For instance, Jeopardy. It’s not hard at all. But I read about it and never get around to installing it. I haven’t gotten around to programming what news sources I want. Or trying out any of the new features like the aforementioned dirty jokes. So lazy.

I don’t have any home automation to add to it.

One thing that’s funny is that when the music is loud (7 or greater (out of 10)) Alexa can’t hear you so you have to shout to get it to respond, just like if you were trying to get the attention of a real person.

If someone was looking at your AMEX account, they could see what you’ve purchased online with your card, but they couldn’t see all the websites that you’ve gone to. While the Amazon Echo hears everything you say to it, but also presumably hears everything else you say within range, because it has to be listening for when you say “Alexa”. That’s what would feel weird to me.

I’ve got no problem with it. You can go in and delete all your voice data on the server whenever you want, though it resets her voice learning. You can also play your clips back so that when it adds “Them” to the shopping list you can listen to yourself to find out you meant “Edam” as in the cheese. Of course any true skeptic will say, “What, you really believe the voice clips they show you stored on the server are really EVERYTHING they recorded of you?” Frankly I don’t have enough energy to get all worked up about a virtual assistant about to steal my life or something. The grocery store already knows every product I buy. Whatever.

She’s extremely useful in the kitchen for hands-free timers and music. No longer do I have to stick my crusty messy bread-kneading hands (or worse…chicken hands!!) on the microwave buttons to set a timer, or touch the CD player when I want the next track. I’ve also tied her in with the smart bulbs we’ve started putting in the house and it’s handy to simply tell her to turn on some lights when I need them. Eventually when we have bulbs everywhere I’ll have her set to flash the bulbs in the computer room when one of my cooking timers goes off, because it’s usually too far away for me to hear the alarm sound. And of course being able to just tell her to add groceries to the shopping list is my number one use. In the past we’d frequently forget things because we’d notice something running out but didn’t have our phones or paper/pen handy at the moment. Now I can just yell it out as I’m peering into the fridge and all is well. I use her every morning to tell me the weather so I know how to dress for work. I’m excited about what new features they’ll add, but I don’t think I’ll ever use her to order a uber/taxi, pizza, or other actual shopping with payments.

Anyone who wants one of these things should watch the movie Demon Seed.

There’s probably a few more mainstream movies of the same genre…The Terminator series or even Ex Machina.

Not really. Demon Seed was about a house controlling computer that decides it wants a baby.

So apparently I’m the only one who is freaked out by this thing? Not only would I never buy one, if I went to a friend’s place and they had one running, I’d leave.

After watching the US government vs. Apple on the subject of cracking iphones, how long do you think it will take for Amazon to get hit with a court order to turn on these things and secretly record someone? How can you be sure they aren’t recording you right now?

I’ve never considered myself especially paranoid before, but now I’m starting to wonder …

I’ve had an Echo since they came out and I really like it. I don’t use it all that often, but I find it very useful for setting a timer when I’m in the kitchen, or asking it the temperature outside, or randomly asking it the news or a sports score, or even just playing some music. I even pre-ordered the Amazon Echo Dot, with the intent to hooking it up to my A/V Stereo system - though I’m weighing whether I want to cancel the pre-order (turning the receiver on and to which port the Echo Dot is connected to would defeat a lot of the benefit I think).

I don’t worry that it is “listening”, because it doesn’t do anything all that different from my phone (Google Now) or computer (Cortana on Windows 10) - it just has a much better listening range and better speaker attached.

Yes, that is pretty much the feeling I was asking about. You aren’t alone. I appreciate the stories I am hearing, but I don’t see myself getting one any time soon. But then again, I don’t use Siri on my iPhone, either.

Siri, tell them to get off my lawn. :wink:

I live alone so most of my conversations are me saying to the dogs “Wait I gotta go pee first then I will let you outside.” If The Government wants that info well…ok.

There was a lot of fear about the telephone when it first came out as well.

I listen to classical music almost exclusively, and I’ve found that the Echo often doesn’t understand what I’m requesting, particularly when foreign names or words are involved. For example, asking for Debussy completely stumps it. There’s apparently no provision for teaching it words it doesn’t recognize. I’ve resorted to using the browser or iPad to control music playback.

If you’re concerned about eavesdropping, you can turn the microphone off, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having an Echo.

Yes, there is. It’s part of the App and feedback functions. Now Amazon may not have any music in their libraries by the particular artists you are requesting, and that wouldn’t necessarily be the software not understanding you.

This strikes me as a really surprising, and disqualifying, weakness.

The entire concept of interacting with a computer using my voice is misguided. Unless you have a disability or something, it is extremely inefficient, with zero privacy.

And I’m not talking about privacy from corporations, governments and hackers, here. Though that’s certainly a concern. But could you imagine saying “Echo, search for ‘teenage anal sluts’ please”, or “Echo, find me a doctor that specializes in leaky rectums” out loud, with anyone else in your home? It doesn’t even have to be gross. What if you want to buy your wife flowers as a surprise for her birthday?

Not to mention, I’ve never had voice recognition work for me. Not on automated phone systems, not Siri, not on Android. They’re just worthless. Does everyone else live in a eerily silent bubble? Wherever I’m at, there’s always music, wind, dishwashers going, kids talking in the background, etc, that makes voice recognition worthless.