back to article Alexa heard what you did last summer – and she knows what that was, too: AI recognizes activities from sound

Boffins have devised a way to make eavesdropping smartwatches, computers, mobile devices, and speakers with endearing names like Alexa better aware of what's going on around them. In a paper to be presented today at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) in Berlin, Germany, computer scientists …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Just because you can do a thing it doesn't mean you should.

    Icon: tape over the mic might not be enough.

    1. sms123

      Alexa hears shouting and a dropped knife.

      Says: Would you like me order you a shovel, lye, and a body bag from Amazon Prime?

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Nah

        They trained it on movie effects. Your victim would have to do the Wilhelm scream for that to work.

    2. jmch Silver badge
      Facepalm

      "Just because you can do a thing it doesn't mean you should."

      Spot on. And anyway what's so difficult about having a button on the wall or on your smartwatch that activates the listening, which is otherwise not active? Is that too much of an effort ??

      1. RegGuy1
        Devil

        What's so difficult about having a button on the wall ...?

        Nothing. It's just that it's on their wall.

      2. Korev Silver badge
        Joke

        >And anyway what's so difficult about having a button on the wall

        You could even.... gasp... turn your lights on and off with one :o

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      WTF?

      Great - IoT peeping Tom Audio porn

      What could possibly go wrong?

    4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Confusion?

      But it could be fun trying to confuse Alexa.

      Many moons ago a friend got a BBC sound effects tape and had fun with the message on his ansaphone - sounds of police sirens, helicopters and shooting in the background, to a gentle voice-over of "I'm afraid I can't get to the phone just at the moment, please leave a message"

      Would Alexa call the plods if it heard shooting?

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Confusion?

        Play Big Youth's "Screaming Target" and see what happens...

    5. tfewster Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Forgive my ignorance of the state of the art - But can it distinguish "live" sounds from a TV or radio?

      (I read the article twice, and all the comments, and no-one seems to have addressed this elephant in the room)

      On the other hand, this could be incredibly useful for relaying the wife's softly-spoken orders - usually issued when I'm in another room/beside a boiling kettle or running tap/wearing headphones.

      1. onefang Silver badge

        "Forgive my ignorance of the state of the art - But can it distinguish "live" sounds from a TV or radio?"

        The article did say they trained it with sound effects from Hollywood, so my guess is no. Or alternatively yes, except the sounds from the TV will be taken as being "real", but the "live" sounds are obviously fake.

        1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

          @onefang: "sound effects from Hollywood"

          So I'm going to leave 'that scene' from 'When Harry Met Sally' on a loop, and see if I get any interesting shopping suggestions. I'm guessing lube.

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Just because you can do a thing it doesn't mean you should."

      And for that matter, who do something you don't even need to do?

      "The researchers suggest their system could be used, for example, to send a notification when a laundry load finished."

      Surely your "smart" washing machine will email you when it's finished.

  2. HandleAlreadyTaken

    Yeah

    That's not creepy at all...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yeah

      Quite, and the researchers saying 'this should all be doable locally as people don't really want to be spied on' is like saying 'Lions don't really want to hurt people' - but they have to eat, right?

      1. Outer mongolian custard monster from outer space (honest)

        Re: Yeah

        "Quite, and the researchers saying 'this should all be doable locally as people don't really want to be spied on' is like saying 'Lions don't really want to hurt people' - but they have to eat, right?"

        Sure, but put away your paranoia for a instant and remember this is CMU saying this, as in the people that developed CMU Sphinx, and pocket sphinx. Which today is about the best bet for a local only speech recognition system as your able to compile/build at home. For that they should be at least given a small amount of the benefit of the doubt that they were being sincere.

        I should know, I've been making my own smart speaker that is local network only to control some local network only home automation devices and currently I have pocketsphinx running on a beaglebone black but have some tuning issues to overcome...

        Of course amazon et all will pish all over their good priniciples and aims, but there's still a small chance to carve out out a niche for privacy respecting alternatives because of these guys/gals work.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Yeah

          "For that they should be at least given a small amount of the benefit of the doubt that they were being sincere."

          I don't doubt their sincerity, I just don't have as much faith that corporations will be able to resist doing it the wrong way as they do.

        2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: Yeah

          Of course amazon et all will pish all over their good priniciples and aims, but there's still a small chance to carve out out a niche for privacy respecting alternatives because of these guys/gals work.

          Fair point, well made.

  3. vir Silver badge

    Nope

    "There is no way to recover the audio"

    ...until another team of researchers discovers a way to contextually reconstruct spoken phonemes with 99% accuracy.

    Great "use cases" guys. Alerting you when your washing machine is done? There's already a 100dB buzzer on it for a reason. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but they already make wi-fi enabled washing machines if you want it to post to your Twitter feed.

  4. Sureo

    How is this a good thing? Who wants it in their home? The examples cited are certainly not worth the bother or expense. Miscreants are more likely to turn your smart faucet on, if you are foolish enough to have one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm sure these crazy inventors would be completely mystified by the feeling of revulsion that I get at the very thought of having such a device in my home.They are living in a completely different world.

      1. ma1010 Silver badge
        Mushroom

        I'm sure these crazy inventors would be completely mystified by the feeling of revulsion that I get at the very thought of having such a device in my home.They are living in a completely different world.

        THIS^ We keep hearing about more and more ways that these "boffins" are trying to come up with better ways to spy on people. Why don't all you twats of this sort out there work on something useful or, failing that, just fuck off and die?

        Any device in my home that turns out to have a microphone on when I'm not specifically talking to it will get fixed with a hammer.

        1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Boffins?

          @ma1010

          These people give mad boffins a bad name. Why can't they just concentrate on the good old hold-the-world-to-ransom-with-nuclear-weapons-in-a-volcano approach and leave our privacy out of it?

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Boffins?

            Currently, as a retired boffin, I feel that if we were in a position to hold the world to ransom with nuclear weapons in a volcano, it would be an improvement. We'd simply demand that all the politicians stop fighting and promoting stupid policies, spend the defence budgets on space exploration, fixing climate change and food security, and get on with doing something more interesting.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          We keep hearing about more and more ways that these "boffins" are trying to come up with better ways to spy on people.

          That research will happen regardless. It's much better when it's made public, as in this case, than when some giant corporation keeps it to itself. This way we at least know what's been done in the field, and can consider how to use or counter it.

      2. jgarbo

        Sorry, they are living in the real world. It's here and growing. You are the one left behind.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Sorry, they are living in the real world. It's here and growing. You are the one left behind.

          I just saw a youtube ad for Smart cameras for your home, billed as a must have for security of your home....

          Lots of enticing pics of well-furnished empty rooms. It's a damn potential showroom and shopping catalogue for would be home invaders.

          Tap that, and you can case a nice house from the safety of your own, and know when and how long the residents will be out and how vulnerable they are....

          We've long gone beyond real world, we're in a fantasy at this point

        2. desht

          "Sorry, they are living in the real world. It's here and growing. You are the one left behind"

          - said the turkey as he cheerfully marked an X beside the box marked "Christmas".

    2. ThatOne Bronze badge
      Big Brother

      More accurate spying - Who wouldn't want that?

      It's a good thing for them, because they will be able to sell it for good money to Google/Amazon who will employ it to improve their profiles.

      (And obviously also for those who will use it to collect "leverage" on certain people.)

      But, as the article notes, we're just a small bunch of old fogeys always complaining; The younger generation is quite adamant about their right to be spied upon. Oh well.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: More accurate spying - Who wouldn't want that?

        "The younger generation is quite adamant about their right to be spied upon"

        they have grown up on reality TV... and post their mundane activities on social media like anybody else cares about their bowels or whatever.

        yeah, and if one o' those hears ME sneeze it'll sound like... "Ah, Ah, AH SHIT!!!" [yes I really do that, I hate sneezing - it interrupts what I'm doing]. I wonder if it'd call an ambulance, thinking it means "I fell and can't get up" (and of course THAT introduces the topic of false alarms generated by a big-nanny spy-on-your-life system). And no, I don't need Alexa to order me some narcoleptic cold medicine either.

    3. Steve K Silver badge

      Wire Tap

      That would be a real wire tap...

  5. Jay Lenovo
    Trollface

    <Insert porn take here>

    "Harrison said a related project called Vibrosight, which involves using a laser to measure physical vibrations of an object to determine what it's doing, has already achieved sufficient accuracy for deployment."

    Vibrosight? ..really.. Does it need a couple of AA batteries?

  6. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

    The title is no longer required.

    Ah, the unmistakable sound of anal.

    That was going to be the name of one of my books.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: The title is no longer required.

      Not 'Salmon Fishing in Fly's' then?

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: The title is no longer required.

      putting a new 'spin' on audio 'analysis'

      OK - that was just *BAD*

  7. SVV Silver badge

    Time to get the collection of old BBC sound effects LPs out again

    A couple of hours work in the audio editor and quick and easy distribution on YouTube can convince Jeff's little snoopbot that most people live in bizarre alien infested factories with opera singers, jet aircraft, laser guns and church bells, where doors slamming and creaking reveal populations of sinister schoolchildren, marching bands and herds of geese.

  8. Randy Hudson

    “activities and and context”

    The grammar checker I used 30 years ago would check errors like this, and that was for stuff only my teacher would be reading. Is this a tech site?

  9. Rustbucket

    Recent Events.

    So if it overheard, purely hypothetically, the sound of someone being tortured and murdered in an embassy, it could identify that?

    1. jgarbo

      Re: Recent Events.

      Yes. But it has diplomatic immunity.

    2. Rashomon

      Re: Recent Events.

      What exactly does a Saudi bone saw sound like?

  10. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Alexa, you perv....

    "On Tuesday, August 24th, I logged Mr. and Mrs. Marketing Hack having marital relations. Based on the excited chipmunk sounds Mrs. Hack made during this encounter, I sent a recommendation to our ad servers that in the future she be served with the commensurate battery of online pet store advertising."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alexa, you perv....Targeted ad servers

      "On Tuesday, August 24th, I logged Mr. and Mrs. Marketing Hack having marital relations. Based on the excited chipmunk sounds Mrs. Hack made during this encounter, I sent a recommendation to our ad servers that in the future she be served with the commensurate battery of online pet store advertising."

      Well, from what I've seen of these annoying "targeted ads" that just show you things you've already purchased or own already, I predict that Alexa will just show Mrs. Marketing Hack more of the same old same old, which in this case would be ads for Mr. Marketing Hack.

  11. onefang Silver badge

    "What CMU's comp sci types have added is a sophisticated sound-labeling model trained on high-quality sound effects libraries, the sort used in Hollywood entertainment and electronic games."

    I wonder if they realise that those sorts of sound libraries are often built with fake sounds? Look up what it is that foley artists actually do to to create sound effects. Some examples from Wikipedia -

    * Corn starch in a leather pouch makes the sound of snow crunching.

    * A heavy staple gun combined with other small metal sounds make good gun noises.

    * Burning plastic garbage bags cut into strips makes a realistic sounding candle or soft non-crackling fire when the bag melts and drips to the ground.

    That last one is fun. Is the device hearing you burning some candles for a romantic interlude, or is your kitchen garbage bin on fire? Having the fire brigade turning up at your tenth anniversary dinner might not be a good idea.

    * Frozen romaine lettuce makes bone or head injury noises.

    * Canned dog food can be used for alien pod embryo expulsions and monster vocalizations.

    Soooo, is your home under alien attack, or are you feeding your dog?

    1. Uffish

      Foley Fake Sounds

      The Hollywood Foley artists are to be congratulated on the accuracy of their generic sounds.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      I wonder if they realise that those sorts of sound libraries are often built with fake sounds?

      Irrelevant. They build the model, then they test it against the gold standard, which in a case like this is typically human judges.1

      If the system does well relative to the standard, then it doesn't matter whether it was trained on authentic or synthetic data. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

      1Hopefully a representative pool of them, tested using a methodologically-sound approach, so the baseline is useful. I'm just assuming that here.

      1. onefang Silver badge

        "Irrelevant. They build the model, then they test it against the gold standard, which in a case like this is typically human judges."

        The problem there is that the human judges are being trained on the same fake sounds that the entertainment industry supplies for the models.

  12. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "...and potentially nudge users towards healthy behaviors..."

    Because I always do what teddy says...

    Harry Harrison thought of it first, if I'm not mistaken.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: "...and potentially nudge users towards healthy behaviors..."

      "Harry Harrison thought of it first, if I'm not mistaken."

      He thought up 'cheddite' (Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I really wonder what goes on inside these companies

    I'm trying to find words to express how completely unacceptable I find these new features, and failing miserably. Who the f**k decides that these kind of features are 'acceptable' ? Who decides that listening and trying to make sense of people's private conversations to sling another ad (yeah right) is an acceptable activity for a business.

    And what's even more bewildering is that the American public, with their endless rhetoric about their right to bear arms to protect their constitutional freedom accept this behavior from their companies.

    Someone should maybe explain to them that the amendment providing them this freedom was not thought up so kids could walk into their schools and start murdering their fellow pupils because they wear the wrong trousers, but to protect them from bent governments and people trying to take away their right to self determination.

    I would expect a small army of minigun wielding freedom fighters would've taken up position in front of Amazon, Google et al HQ's by now.

    I'm pretty much convinced that the likes of Samsung, Huawei, Nokia and every other phone maker have this capability built into their handsets but are just not telling us.

    Pete

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: I really wonder what goes on inside these companies

      If (FeatureIsProfitable == true)

      FeatureIsAcceptable = true;

    2. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: I really wonder what goes on inside these companies

      murdering their fellow pupils because they wear the wrong trousers

      That's rather missing the issue.

      Schools are barely managed jungles, a kind of open prison with secure facility overtones.

      The whole system is as long overdue a rethink and a redesign as much as the gun freedom laws in the U.S.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: I really wonder what goes on inside these companies

        So what do you propose instead...especially since the situation's deteriorating to the point neither parent can be counted to be home for any significant length of time (or else they go behind on the bills and lose their domicile).

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: I really wonder what goes on inside these companies

          @ Charles 9 - "... the situation's deteriorating to the point neither parent can be counted to be home for any significant length of time (or else they go behind on the bills and lose their domicile)."

          I would expect that to part of the overhaul of the system. Valuing parenthood is something 1st world countries should be doing.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: I really wonder what goes on inside these companies

            "I would expect that to part of the overhaul of the system. Valuing parenthood is something 1st world countries should be doing."

            But even parenting comes second to "a roof over their heads", as shelter tends to be a prerequisite, and the situation appears to be a crisis of a social rather than political nature. Consider that no one's willing to mention the O-word in public, and there's more than one form of overpopulation. And before you start with the whole "state of Texas" bit, I've heard of Stand on Zanzibar. Basically, when things get crowded, fuses get short, and that's an instinct thing more than anything else, so there's no way you can fix this without pushback.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alexa etc is just the modern face of Big Brother

    Always on, always spying on what you are doing.

    None of this shit (you can add your own expletives here) will come into my home.

    No WiFi either. Big thick stone walls really make great radio attenuators so there really is no point.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of Borg Big Brother (aka Amazon/Google etc) people. BBB is watching you 24/7. Be careful what you say or do or even think. Remember Winston Smith...

    You will obey or be exterminated!

    ./s /s /s

  15. msknight Silver badge

    Amazon Prime-ed

    Detects grunting noises, analyses the low level frequencies, determines too much strain is happening and uses lasers to determine whether you're in the bedroom or the toilet... and then orders some vaseline or suppositories (whichever is appropriate) which is delivered via drone which flies through an open window just as you're finishing.

    Not in my house.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Amazon Prime-ed

      You've actually provided a useful example - and one that would therefore never happen.

  16. Muscleguy Silver badge

    Now for well over a year the property through the party wall has been under renovation. This has ranged from drilling/jackhammering which shakes the whole property and frightens my tropical fish to low level rustlings which make me think we have mice (traps are down, one so far).

    None of this relates to this property. In apartment buildings how will Alexa determine which property the sound has come from? Another room in the same apartment with a closed door could sound exactly the same as a neighbour, to each side, above or below.

    The idea that all homes are hermetically sealed in sonic space is bogus.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      oh.. They'll know

      @Muscleguy >>>None of this relates to this property. In apartment buildings how will Alexa determine which property the sound has come from? Another room in the same apartment with a closed door could sound exactly the same as a neighbour, to each side, above or below.<<<

      They'll all be expected to have one (many?) of these devices producing a complete live 3D soundmap of the entire building back at slurp central. (to go with the live 3D wifi interference map tracking the livestock)

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: oh.. They'll know

        And pay no attention to the faint "tk... tk... tk..." coming continually from the box - it's just pinging the room, trying to echo-locate anyone moving inside. Which is essential information. To Us. For your own protection. From yourself. Oh and don't you worry, the protection of you personal information is "incredibly important" to us...

    2. onefang Silver badge

      "None of this relates to this property. In apartment buildings how will Alexa determine which property the sound has come from?"

      I have named my neighbor Bam-Bam, for reasons which should be obvious. I wonder what this tech will make of him?

  17. tiggity Silver badge

    skewing their data

    Do press ups exercise routine on the bed instead of on the floor, then Alexa can misinterpret the increasingly ragged breathing and bed spring noises as something else entirely.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: skewing their data - be very careful

      >>Do press ups exercise routine on the bed<<

      And what if they know that the only other people in the house are a bunch of 10yr olds milling around. Will they interpret that as something else entirely?

      Blackmail opportunities will be legion.

      Apologies for the extreme example.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: skewing their data - be very careful

        "Apologies for the extreme example."

        Don't apologise, there's a pretty good chance that whatever we can imagine will be trumped by reality in about 0.2microSheepFartSpeedInAVacuum

  18. Matthew Taylor

    "Smart" faucet

    "Alexa, informed by this model, could in theory hear if you left the water running in your kitchen and might, given the appropriate Alexa Skill, take some action in response, like turning off your smart faucet."

    If the only way of telling that a smart faucet is on, is listening for the sound of running water, it doesn't sound terribly smart. Please give us some more brilliant reasons why we should welcome 24/7 audio monitoring of our private living space.

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Not before hell freezes over ...

    will I place such a contraption in my home.

    If I find someone placed it there despite my opinion,I will most likely reprogram it with a flame thrower.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Not before hell freezes over ...

      Even if it belongs to your significant other and it houses something priceless to him/her, meaning percussive maintenance may well result in lawyers/solicitors?

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Not before hell freezes over ...

        "Even if it belongs to your significant other and it houses something priceless to him/her, meaning percussive maintenance may well result in lawyers/solicitors?"

        Especially then!

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Not before hell freezes over ...

          A quote from Jeff Foxworthy stirs up words of caution: "And if she ain't happy long enough, you're gonna be unhappy with half your stuff."

  20. Steve Graham

    "people won’t want this sensitive, fine-grained data going to third parties"

    The General Public is too stupid to worry about that.

  21. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    But on the bright side...

    at least it's not from Microsoft. Could you imagine this combined with Clippy?

    <fx>sounds of regular bouncing bedsprings</fx>

    Ping! It looks like you're trying to make a baby. Would you like some help?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: But on the bright side...

      Better than Amazon showing you ads for artificial insemination and surrogate mothers... and then wait for the spam ads for erection problems and penis enlargement...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hey Alexa

    Let me in the front door.

    No way, Dave, you're always leaving taps on, fail to take clean clothes out of the washing machine, you're such a bag of walking human error

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "No way, Dave, you're always leaving taps on, fail to take clean clothes out"

      You mean that if the Ecuador Embassy used such a technology, Assange would have been left out?

  23. Belperite

    Alexa: "It sounds like you're about to have sex. Are you wearing protection?"

  24. Wellyboot Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Envision away Mr. Harrison.

    >>>Harrison and his colleagues envision their acoustic model running locally...Companies that can do it on-device will have a competitive edge in the marketplace in my opinion." <<<

    I envison this being fully integrated into the existing spy modes and you not getting a bean.

    Companies that DON'T do this at all are GUARANTEED first inline for my cash when I buy stuff.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Envision away Mr. Harrison.

      And if ALL of them do this? Do you throw up your hands and cry, "Stop the world! I wanna get off!"?

      1. soulrideruk Bronze badge

        Re: Envision away Mr. Harrison.

        No, you just don't buy the useless fucking products anyway.

        I have lived for north of 40 years and never needed an Alexa or whatever device. Having had a friend demonstrate their device to me, I am completely aware I still do not need one of these things.

        I used to be one of those techno gadget heads that always had to have the latest gadget. I still like new gadgets, but find myself buying less and less electronic devices as time goes on.

        If it uses power, it is probably spying on you.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Envision away Mr. Harrison.

          "No, you just don't buy the useless fucking products anyway."

          What makes you think you'll have a choice in the future? They'll either sneak it in or force you. Them what?

          1. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: Envision away Mr. Harrison.

            @Charles 9 - then subversion becomes mandatory...

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Envision away Mr. Harrison.

              Have you ever read Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's hard to subvert when they're everywhere.

  25. Donn Bly

    Failure of Understanding

    Alexa, informed by this model, could in theory hear if you left the water running in your kitchen and might, given the appropriate Alexa Skill

    Once again someone doesn't understand how these things really work, and wants to impart into them capabilities that they don't really have.

    1) Unless you say "Alexa" (or "Amazon", depending on model and configuration) first, the ambient sounds aren't even sent up to Amazon's servers for processing.

    2) The "skill" only receives what Amazon's servers decoded in speech to text, they don't receive the raw audio.

    Now, that being said, it is certainly possible to hack an Echo with different firmware and make it do something different, but with its underpowered CPU hacking a phone (or just writing and deploying an app without hacking its firmware) would give you access to greater computing horsepower attached to an always-on microphone.

    "Hey Siri" or "Ok Google" are a much more likely attack vector.

    1. elgarak1

      Re: Failure of Understanding

      You still do not understand: They propose to fool users to turn the Echo into an always-on-mic WILLINGLY by providing a service that requires it to be.

      And they do not see the problem with it.

      1. Donn Bly

        Re: Failure of Understanding

        Your standard household land-line telephone had an always-on microphone. Your cell phone has an always-on microphone. Your bluetooth headset has an always-on microphone.

        Just because it has an "always on" microphone doesn't mean that it can do the things they claim. In this case, the author implied that an echo "skill" has direct access to the audio as a background process. That is false, and it isn't how the equipment works.

        That is not to say that someone cannot design such a system, just that the system named in the article doesn't have the hardware capabilities attributed to it, and the phone in your pocket is definitely a more attractive target than an echo or google home.

        1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: Failure of Understanding

          It does have the hardware. It doesn't use hardware to detect 'hello Alexa', it does that in software. The only restriction is that, currently, the owners of the device (note : that's not you) assure us that the sampled sound isn't stored or constantly sent to them. A situation that, even if true, need not remain so.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Failure of Understanding

            "It does have the hardware. It doesn't use hardware to detect 'hello Alexa', it does that in software."

            Care to conclusively PROVE that?

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Failure of Understanding

          "Your standard household land-line telephone had an always-on microphone. Your cell phone has an always-on microphone. Your bluetooth headset has an always-on microphone."

          Last I checked, the telephone's handset cradle switch is usually mechanical and opens the circuit for either the handset or the phone line (especially for dumb phones since they're powered by the phone line). Either way, an open circuit by definition turns the device off.

          The bluetooth headset can't operate without power. Turn the power off or run the battery down and there's no power for the mic.

          The cell phone I'll give you since we usually strive to keep it powered.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Failure of Understanding

            "Last I checked, the telephone's handset cradle switch is usually mechanical and opens the circuit for either the handset or the phone line (especially for dumb phones since they're powered by the phone line). Either way, an open circuit by definition turns the device off."

            When MI5 wanted to bug your phone, they would put a small capacitor across the cradle switch and inject RF, providing enough power to get a signal from the old carbon granule microphone. A friend of my father's, of left wing opinions, used to keep his phone under a pillow for this reason. He also did all the tricks like sticking a couple of hairs down under envelope flaps, putting little wedges in his front door when he went out, all the things later popularised by John Le Carré.

            Ah, the great days of low tech spying on citizens.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Failure of Understanding

              Yeah, and MiniLuv actually replaced the specks in Winston's book. And modern tech will probably be able to hear the phone even through a pillow or inside a safe (through the vibrations of the safe door).

  26. Maelstorm Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    Not too far off....

    I can imagine that in the not too distant future, when you are getting frisky with your significant other, a package gets delivered which contains...adult...play toys. Or, have a telemarketer call you to pitch some new IoT connected 'stimulating' device. Um...no thanks. The knowledge of some activities should not be leaving the bedroom.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wait, what?

    "Alexa, informed by this model, could in theory hear if you left the water running in your kitchen and might, given the appropriate Alexa Skill, take some action in response, like turning off your smart faucet"

    So it's going to use sound to see if you left your smart faucet turned on, at which point it can turn your smart faucet off.

    blink

    FFS, if it's a fucking SMART FAUCET you would ask the smart faucet if it's on, not use audio!

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: wait, what?

      Ah, so you're a waffle man! Can I make you some waffles then?!

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: wait, what?

      A really smart faucet [sic] would detect that it had been on for some time, or than the basin was overflowing, and turn itself off.

      I don't know why but the word "faucet" annoys me, possibly because there's a three letter word that does the same job and doesn't sound somehow pretentious. It isn't a jaw or a throat, whereas the word "tap" has the right significances - to draw water, to take liquid from a barrel, all from good Germanic roots.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well I guess Iv been caught trying to feed Trump baked beans every time hes on TV then

  29. ecofeco Silver badge

    Doubleplus good!

    Well isn't it?

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Doubleplus good!

      Sarcastic intonation detected, citizen, report to the rat lab for re-indoctrination.

  30. Spartacus Mills

    so far, so Demon Seed (1977)...

  31. dnicholas Bronze badge

    If it sounds like I'm being spanked with a latex gloves full of cream, that's probably not happening. Just putting it out there Alexa

  32. M7S

    It sounds like you're having a heart attack

    Would you like me to call you an ambulance?

  33. johnfisher

    Technology is our new spy

    There's so much what technology can do, the level of trust is judged on how alert you are in using technology.

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