3/13/2016

The Amazon Echo listens to anyone – even NPR

I’ve had the repeated pleasure of meeting the Boston Globe’s Hiawatha Bray — he writes his Tech Lab column for the newspaper — and have appreciated his “big picture” stories on innovation. He gets into the nitty gritty, too: last time I saw him on my way home, he was toting a Moto X for review.

It’s with that cred that NPR’s Rachel Martin invited Bray for a segment a couple weeks ago on Weekend Edition Sunday about the Amazon Echo and the company’s voice-powered assistant, Alexa.


If you’re not familiar with how this up and coming Internet of Things hub works, you prompt the voice assistant by saying, for example, “Alexa, what’s the capital of Norway,” or “Alexa, light my living room green.” Unfortunately, Alexa doesn’t really come with voice training, meaning that it’ll take requests from anyone within listening vicinity. Including the radio.

That’s where Bray got to cause havoc in some homes whose tech-savvy occupants had an Amazon Echo a little too close to their radios. Here’s a transcript:

MARTIN: By Amazon – we’re talking about Amazon taking over the controls of my home?
BRAY: Well, not Amazon. They’re just giving you the tool that allows you to do it.
MARTIN: OK.
BRAY: It connects to your Wi-Fi. Already there are Wi-Fi-enabled light bulbs. There are Wi-Fi-enabled home security systems. There are Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats. So you can easily imagine a future in which you walk into your home and say, Alexa, turn on CNN. Set the temperature to 70 degrees. And heat the oven to 400.
Yikes. Fortunately, it was only soft damage as listeners wrote in saying that Alexa did set their thermostats to 70 degrees while another started playing aloud an NPR news bulletin. Well, Martin took to the air again last Sunday to cause a little trouble of her own.