As is usually the case, human beings have a way of implanting their own beliefs on human-like technology, imparting their own biases on what should be a fun and somewhat useful tool.
This time, the target is Amazon’s Alexa, a low-level A.I. that can tell you what the weather will be like tomorrow or play your favorite tunes from Spotify. But try and ask her complex questions and you will quickly see the limit of her programming. It’s simply the result of an affordable A.I. that was built to be a personal assistant, not your congressman or professor.
There is a video circulating online which seems to indicate that Alexa is purposefully evading questions about the use of its tiny robotic recording device to send audio to the CIA. In the video, Alexa outright doesn’t answer when probed about this. Some indicate that Alexa is being purposefully evasive – a human emotion and action – rather than understanding that the basic AI has quite a few limits.
Those who truly believe that Alexa is hiding something from us deliberately have gone to great lengths to explain their theory. Some theorize that because Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, and because Bezos also owns Washington Post, and because he has a contract working with the CIA, Alexa very well could be recording innocent users and sending that audio straight to the CIA.
As the video shows, Alexa keeps mum when you ask if you are being recorded – likely, programmers did not give her a response to that question because there are an infinite number of questions to be asked. You’ll get a similar response if you ask her if Barack Obama is a lizard-person or if the Illuminati is real.
Similarly, iPhone’s earlier A.I. Siri will also give you non-answers to these non-questions. Ask her if she is recording you and she will say, “I can’t answer that.”
We have already seen instances of the use of Alexa in criminal trials as “America’s Lawyer” recently detailed, noting that in some instances, the audio device and A.I. can record for short periods of time while “listening” for a question. But we don’t need a pre-programmed robot to tell us that – common sense would.
Now as anyone who read about the Wikileaks released last week on the CIA knows, the Central Intelligence Agency can and likely has used in-home technology like cell phones and Smart TVs to listen in on the conversations of private citizens. Most who learned the truth from these leaks were less than surprised – after all, access to these technologies is relatively simple and with the tools at the CIA’s disposal, it would have been much more surprising to hear that they weren’t listening to us.
Not to be flippant, but we have done this to ourselves – instead of worrying about what response (or non-response) your $60 piece of A.I. gives you to questions about a grand conspiracy, maybe you should have her read you the history of our intelligence community from Wikipedia, or even download yourself a copy of 1984 to get the real scoop – Alexa will read that to you, too.