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Amazon Echo: A product to be worried about or not?

Amazon product concerns parents as it comes without necessary etiquette

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Amazon Echo. Image source Wikimedia commons
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You shouldn’t worry if you forget your please and thank you. Alexa will put up with just about anything with tolerance. But while artificial intelligence technology can blow past such indignities, parents are still irked by their kids’ poor manners when interacting with Alexa, the assistant that lives inside the Amazon Echo.

“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.’” Perhaps she should, he thinks.

Alexa app. Image source Wikimedia commons
Alexa app. Image source Wikimedia commons

When Amazon released its internet-connected speaker in 2014, the world was puzzled. It was able to do work in a smart home by adding events to your calendar, summon an Uber, even tell knock-knock jokes. It became a very curious design. Google and Apple is reportedly designing their own version powered by Google home and Siri respectively.

Mimicking their parents, they quickly discover that if they start a sentence with “Alexa,” the speaker will perk up and (for the most part) do as they say. Amazon didn’t keep children in mind during the designing. It becomes child friendly even when the child does not know reading or any such commands.

Some of the questions Alexa can be asked are:

  • Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
  • Alexa, how do you spell forest?
  • Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?

The commands given are usually simple and straightforward but doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be of great concern. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.” It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”

Hanover Kurzweil, who lives in San Francisco, says Alexa had a hard time comprehending her four-year-old son when he tried summoning the speaker with “Awexa.” But after a month or two of working on his pronunciation, his l’s started ringing clear as a bell, she says.
Apple's Siri. Image source Wikimedia commons
Apple’s Siri. Image source Wikimedia commons

Not all parents are so worried about the implications of their kids’ mannerisms when interacting with a speaker, though. This is, after all, a “can that sits on a table,” says Holly Petersen, a mother of two who lives in Minnesota. They find ‘unintentional aggressiveness’ in the tone of her command. Though Petersen believes her children, ages five and seven, know the difference between bot and human. “It is important for my kids to be able to empathize with people and read emotions off people and be polite with people,” she says. But “Alexa doesn’t have feelings, and I don’t want her over-personified.”

Still, with the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, a debate is emerging around how humans should treat bots. Mortensen argues that “you are worse off if you treat your machines in a demeaning kind of way.” Mortensen created the calendar-scheduling assistant called x.ai. He doesn’t correct them though since they “are beyond the age of where I teach them decency and courtesy.”

But other parents haven’t given up. Manu Kumar, a father of two and founder of investment firm K9 Ventures in Palo Alto, California, has attempted one tactic with his four-year-old with limited success. “I have told my son that if he doesn’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ that Alexa will stop listening to him.”  He too believes that what matters is the importance of being nice. He says that if Alexa doesn’t care about how we talk to her, other people around us are going to experience how we interact with it.

People are longing for a kid or family mode where Alexa responds only after hearing the keyword. Of course, that would mean parents, too, would be beholden to these courtesies. Such a mode “would probably be good for us,” muses Hanover Kurzweil.

No matter what, an Amazon representative declined to agree to what these parents have to say. She also wrote an email saying “I think I’d like to use that with my daughter :)”
-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter-Vrushali Mahajan 
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  • AJ Krish

    I personally believe that kids should say their pleases and thank you even if it is to a bot.It is how we behave to others that show the world who we are.I share the parent’s concerns.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be a difference when bots talk to the children and when parents talk to them. You cannot expect the bots to parent your child in your desired way. Therefore you should be able to identify when the child needs you

  • devika todi

    the parents need to be more careful in this regard. they need to make sure that their kids know the difference when they are speaking to a robot and when they are speaking to a human.

  • AJ Krish

    I personally believe that kids should say their pleases and thank you even if it is to a bot.It is how we behave to others that show the world who we are.I share the parent’s concerns.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be a difference when bots talk to the children and when parents talk to them. You cannot expect the bots to parent your child in your desired way. Therefore you should be able to identify when the child needs you

  • devika todi

    the parents need to be more careful in this regard. they need to make sure that their kids know the difference when they are speaking to a robot and when they are speaking to a human.

Next Story

A bot that can sketch like human? Microsoft is developing one!

Each image contains details that are absent from the text descriptions, indicating that this AI contains an artificial imagination

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Microsoft is developing a bot with the Artificial Intelligence technology that can sketch like humans. Pixabay
Microsoft is developing a bot with the Artificial Intelligence technology that can sketch like humans. Pixabay
  • Microsoft is developing a bot which can draw what you want through Artificial Intelligence technology
  • These pictures will be created by the computer from scratch, pixel by pixel
  • Currently, the technology is imperfect but the researchers are looking forward to develop a model through which help humans and bots to interact with each other

Microsoft is developing a bot that can draw what you want it to by leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology — programmed to pay close attention to individual words when generating images from caption-like text descriptions.

The technology, which the researchers simply call the drawing bot, can generate images of everything from ordinary pastoral scenes — such as grazing livestock — to the absurd and a floating double-decker bus.

ALSO READ: Microsoft to offer cloud services to Indian start-ups

Each image contains details that are absent from the text descriptions, indicating that this AI contains an artificial imagination.

For now, the technology is imperfect. Pixabay
For now, the technology is imperfect. Pixabay

“If you go to Bing and you search for a bird, you get a bird picture. But here, the pictures are created by the computer, pixel by pixel, from scratch. These birds may not exist in the real world — they are just an aspect of our computer’s imagination of birds,” Xiaodong He from Microsoft’s research lab in a blog post late on Thursday.

According to results on an industry standard test, reported in a research paper posted on arXiv.org, the bot produced a nearly three-fold boost in image quality compared to the previous state-of-the-art technique for text-to-image generation.

The core of this bot is a technology known as a "Generative Adversarial Network" or GAN. Pixabay
The core of this bot is a technology known as a “Generative Adversarial Network” or GAN. Pixabay

The network consists of two Machine Learning models — one that generates images from text descriptions and another, known as a discriminator, that uses text descriptions to judge the authenticity of generated images.

ALSO READ: Microsoft slashes 7,800 jobs, mostly in phones unit

The researchers said that text-to-image generation technology could find practical applications acting as a sort of sketch assistant to painters and interior designers or as a tool for voice-activated photo refinement.

“For AI and humans to live in the same world, they have to have a way to interact with each other. The language and vision are the two most important modalities for humans and machines to interact with each other,” The blog post explained. (IANS)