Depending upon how many of the iPhones in use during the meeting a bunch of them will issue the famous Siri sound, with a pause, then Siri might say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite hear that.” All at about the same time. Anybody see a problem with computers that are always listening, always waiting for a verbal command, never caring whose voice is making the request?
Just such a problem occurred with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa personal assistant. All that’s required to trigger Alexa into action is a nearby television program or radio which utters words specific to Alexa’s commands. That can happen by accident or on purpose.
On purpose? Last week Burger King triggered a bunch of Google Home devices to read an advertisement about Whoppers. The way it worked was clever to the point of ingenious. A 15-second Burger King television commercial simply asked, “OK Google… what is the Whopper burger?”
The phrase “OK Google” triggered a bunch of Google Home devices to start reading a commercial about the Burger King Whopper from an edited Wikipedia page. Google Home listens for commands, then responds appropriately.
Google was not amused and promptly shut down Burger King’s little escapade, but a few things are worth noting about this event. First, Burger King got plenty of mostly free publicity for the Whopper Burger. Second, Google got a bit of egg on its face because Burger King showed Google Home for what it is. A dumb digital assistant. And, finally, we learn that there are some holes in modern technology and how voice commands– and computers that listen– can cause unintended problems.
For example, let’s say Apple’s Siri comes to Apple TV and Apple turns the device into its own hub for home devices and accessories. “Hey Siri… unlock the front door.” And Siri responds by unlocking the front door. Siri doesn’t care who asked the question. If a front door lock is a device that Siri can control, Siri will issue the appropriate commands.
All it would take to unlock the front door is for the words “Hey Siri… unlock the front door” to be placed in a television program, or even on a home telephone answering machine. Carried a step or two beyond that simple problem, a voice from television, radio, or aimed at anyone named Alexa in a room where Alexa awaits a beckoning call, “Alexa, please order…” See the problem?
It’s one thing to listen for a voice command, and it’s something different to listen to a specific voice command. Here’s how I expect this to play out. Siri will be given additional instructions and options. For example, “Hey Siri…” won’t work. You’ll have to say, “Hey Siri. It’s (insert your name here).” and then issue a command.
These artificial intelligent personal digital assistants are not as smart as we sometimes give them credit.