Echo and the Voice Activated Device Space – AI Vectors


Picture Credit: Amazon

Update: The massive denial of service attacks last week were traced to a takeover of smart home devices by a Chinese firm according to Anthony Mongeluzo from Pro Computer Services as he detailed on Fox Business here. Internet traffic company Dyn told CNBC it faced continued DDoS (denial of service) attacks on 21 October, 2016 were “well planned and executed, coming from tens of millions of IP addresses at the same time.” What is more worrying is the CIA claim that more DDoS attacks are “planned” for election day, according to Carmen Medina (?), the former CIA Deputy Director of Intel who’s talking points were broadcast across the main stream media repetitively since the third debate ended last Wednesday.

Like the Red Sox’s Hanley Ramirez, Amazon is on a roll. It has the online e-commerce market in a vice hold and the fast shipping and benefits of its Prime service are compelling to repeat customers. Frankly, unlike Wal-Mart or KMart or Target (stupid bathroom absurdity), Amazon has choice, price advantage and convenience. IAI is a customer and repeat buyer for these reasons but we can, in fact, ask Jeff Bezos to avoid the mistake their Internet brethren have made in their social media and Virtual Reality (VR) ventures – that is, don’t censor or manipulate or indoctrinate or lie or invade the privacy of your customers.  In fact, the biggest threat to privacy lies in the Internet of Things (IoT) being hacked (which it has been and will) as something as basic as a Samsung TV communicates actively with up to 200 IoT devices in your home, oh, and records and videos activity inside your home ! That must be buried in the “usage agreement” written by a team of lawyers who declare you lose your privacy for “free services.” But IoT is forecast to be a $290B market by 2017, maybe larger.

So, let’s look carefully at the current Amazon hit – “the Echo” which is a voice-activated device (much like ones from Apple, Google [Home] and Microsoft [Cortona] offerings) that is “always on” and “logs every sentence spoken to it,” according to the London Telegraph. But wait, my British chums, it logs every sound it hears and is a continuous transmission device relying on serial inference and contextual awareness. In fact, “voice-activated smart home systems” are all the rage and are the enablers of the IoT takeover of homes from “dumb humans.” /S But, as Slate points out, just trust the – completely…

Five things you can do with the Echo

  • Control your music by saying “Alexa, play some Adele” without having to pick up your phone or walk over to your laptop
  • Ask for weather information by saying “Alexa, what’s the weather?”
  • Get other handy information such as the time and traffic on your commute
  • Alexa can also help out in the kitchen by answering questions such as “Alexa, set a timer for 25” minutes
  • Third party compatibility with Alexa means that you’ll soon be able to order a pizza or book a taxi by calling out

The story of Echo actually starts with Amazon’s acquisitions of Alexa (website rankings & “actionable analytics” – 1999) and Evi (artificial intelligence – 2013) combined with the construction of a customer-centric shopping database and the development of a massive cloud computing capability. Even though the Amazon “Fire Phone” was a late-to-the-party fail, it did get Amazon thinking creatively about bunding devices with content using the lure of a “Prime” customer relationship which has translated into customer loyalty. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners reported that the Prime customer base grew 43% by H1 16 to 63M (over half of its customer base) with a annual spend differential of $1200 (Price) to $500 (non-Prime). Unlike dumb Siri which often routes drivers into traffic or gets them lost (try the smarter Google Waze), the Echo is quite efficient and represents a precursor of an animated robot assistant for the household or business applications. The Telegraph nails it as a platform for the introduction of artificial intelligence devices into every aspect of society.

Amazon’s software also seems more reliable. The company’s prowess in cloud computing – which has spawned the colossal Amazon Web Services unit – means that the Echo has access to the near-infinite computing resources of the company’s servers: it can hear a question, send it to be processed, receive an answer and relay it in milliseconds. And Amazon’s underrated artificial intelligence chops, honed using years of shopping data and developed at an R&D base in Cambridge, have allowed it to sneak under the radar.


Waay back in April 2014, WIRED called IoT “far bigger than anyone realizes.” To dig in deeper, the research shop of the article, Burrus Research, operates with  “a philosophy of helping clients understand and profit from the driving forces of technology-driven change, enabling them to gain new competitive advantage as they create new products, markets, services and careers.” Hardly a  Johnny-Come-Lately, futurist Dan Burrus has hung his shingle since 1983 and he does not see IoT as simply ‘increased machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.

When we talk about making machines “smart,” we’re not referring strictly to M2M. We’re talking about sensors. A sensor is not a machine. It doesn’t do anything in the same sense that a machine does. It measures, it evaluates; in short, it gathers data. The Internet of Things really comes together with the connection of sensors and machines. That is to say, the real value that the Internet of Things creates is at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it. All the information gathered by all the sensors in the world isn’t worth very much if there isn’t an infrastructure in place to analyze it in real time. Cloud-based applications are the key to using leveraged data. The Internet of Things doesn’t function without cloud-based applications to interpret and transmit the data coming from all these sensors. The cloud is what enables the apps to go to work for you anytime, anywhere.

In closing, try to think of hapless astronaut Dave when his onboard mainframe HAL refuses his commands in the classic 1968 sci-fi movie “2001: A Space Odessey.”  Legendary film critic Robert Ebert explained,

What (Director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke) had actually done was make a philosophical statement about man’s place in the universe, using images as those before him had used words, music or prayer. And he had made it in a way that invited us to contemplate it — not to experience it vicariously as entertainment, as we might in a good conventional science-fiction film, but to stand outside it as a philosopher might, and think about it. Life onboard the Discovery is presented as a long, eventless routine of exercise, maintenance checks and chess games with HAL. Only when the astronauts fear that HAL’s programming has failed does a level of suspense emerge; their challenge is somehow to get around HAL, which has been programmed to believe, “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.”

IAI leaves you with this classic scene: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” –  [Link:


In future posts, I’ll direct some attention to:

  • Amazon’s Evi and its Lab 126 in Silicon Valley
  • Google’s Deep Mind, Magic Leap and API.AI
  • Apple’s VocalIQ
  • Facebook’s Oculus Rift
  • Fossil Group’s Misfit and Recon Instruments

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