If you’ve got an Amazon Echo, you know the drill. It sits there passively listening for its wake word — “Alexa” by default — and then pay attention to what follows. So currently, the way you get it to work is to say something like “Alexa, what’s in the news”, or “Alexa, what’s the weather like” or (my favourite) “Alexa, tell me a joke.”
Echo users are very familiar with this, but it’s Amazon’s ambition that you’ll eventually have to speak to it less, and in time it will somewhat creepily know what you want before you ask it. A bit like Minority Report, only with shopping list additions rather than crimes.
“We believe that the future of consumer technology is ambient intelligence, which uses AI to weave together devices and intelligent services,” explained Amazon’s Tom Taylor at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon. “This isn’t just more connected devices. It’s about adding intelligence throughout the system to make the devices better.”
This AI, he explained, is “there when you need it and recedes into the background when you don’t.” The ultimate aim is that people spend less time looking at screens and more time living in the moment. “It means you’re spending more time looking up at the world and the people in it,” he added.
But how will this work in practice? In a very passive-aggressive manner, judging from the example Taylor had lined up. “Let’s say you are a parent and you want to make sure your kids do their chores,” he said. “You could train Alexa to listen for the sound of Xbox turning on and have it automatically show your kids a to-do list on the Echo Show. How great is that?”
Taylor went on to say that visual triggers could also be a thing. Ring doorbells, for example, can already spot events like a delivery person arriving. It’s not a huge leap to imagine a world where the front door invitingly swings open when it sees a parcel coming up the drive.
Feels a bit like the start of a horror movie to me, but so do many of big tech’s ideas for the future…