Yesterday Amazon launched Echo, a digital assistant that sounds a lot like a female version of Hal (from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Or better, Majel Barrett channeling the brain of the starship Enterprise.
“Far-field voice recognition” enables Echo to listen for your queries (triggered by a wake-up word) from a distance. Here’s a demo video:
For some reason I went in primed to snark, but I am actually intrigued by the prospect of using Echo while cooking (elbows deep in raw ingredients not being the best time to make notes or look things up). True, Amazon’s motivation seems to be to provide you with an ever present personal shopping assistant, but that doesn’t mean that Echo won’t be co-opted into other roles.
As technology gets better at understanding natural language queries, and at interfacing with the world (to make appointments for us, place orders, adjust our physical environment) “assistants” like Echo will proliferate in a variety of forms. A program like Echo may, in time, follow you everywhere–embedded in your environment.
Is there any downside to having a discreet, always-on, internet connected digital Gal Friday at our beck and call? Will (s)he be just one more device that makes our lives easier and more efficient, or one more digital intrusion into our privacy and self-sufficiency? Or both?
Your Futurist Friday assignment: make a list of what you would ask Echo to do, or answer
- in your home
- at your workplace
And what is gained, or lost, by off-loading those tasks to a digital assistant.
And if you wouldn’t use Echo even if someone gave her to you, why not?