In 2011, IBM sent a computer system called Watson to compete on Jeopardy against two former champions. Watson used four terabytes of disk storage information stored on his hard drive to beat both of his human contestants on the popular game show. This was certainly not the world's first introduction to artificial intelligence, but it may have been the first time many saw artificial intelligence used outside of a sci-fi movie.
Artificial intelligence (or "AI") has come a long way since Watson won Jeopardy. Thanks to Amazon's Echo, AI has moved from an abstract idea we can watch on television into our homes and lives. Amazon's Echo can answer your questions, give information on local business, control the lights in your home, report traffic data, and recognize your voice with Alexa voice recognition services.
The Alexa voice recognition service has garnered a lot of attention in the past week or so. The idea behind the technology is that by using a "wake up" word, such as "Alexa," someone can ask the Echo a question such as "Alexa, what's the weather outside?" Alexa will wake up upon hearing her voice and answer whatever question was asked. But unless Alexa hears her voice, she is supposed to remain asleep. However, this presents the obvious problem that it would be very hard for Alexa to be both asleep and constantly on alert in case her name is called.
This problem was recently recognized by an Arkansas police department while investigating a murder that occurred in a home that utilized an Amazon Echo. Arkansas police have reason to believe the suspect's Amazon Echo may have picked up voice recordings of the incident, and have requested access to Amazon's history of recordings. However, Amazon is reluctant to give up this information.
There are generally two schools of thought on artificial intelligence like the Amazon Echo. One side appreciates the technology for its potential to make our lives more convenient - Echo users can access an extraordinary amount of data by just asking the Echo a question. The other side worries about the security involved - how can you maintain the privacy of your home while using a device that may always be on? It is important to realize these camps are not mutually exclusive. Many, if not all, customers who purchase an Amazon Echo consider the security risks and make the decision that the benefits outweigh the risks.
The Echo has obvious benefits, but until now we haven't understood much about how Amazon collects and stores their data. Now that the courts have granted the prosecutor's request to access the Echo's data, it appears that we are on the verge of learning a great deal about this process. It has been amazing to see the progression of artificial intelligence, from Watson winning Jeopardy to this technology being brought into the home and used by everyday people. However, it is imperative that this technology is not just brought into the home, but that it is brought safely into the home with the ability to secure the data it receives. When the data from this particular Echo is revealed, we will learn precisely how much progress has been made.