Have you heard the nightmare stories about the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assistants? The one where the little girl uses Alexa to order boxes and boxes of Barbies? Luckily, AI Assistants are getting smarter, and parents can adjust parental controls to prevent kids from ordering toys or massive amounts of candy online. Here are the key things to know about AI Assistants.
An AI assistant is a computer program that runs off your voice commands. For example, you can ask the Google Assistant to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe by saying, “OK Google, find me a chocolate chip cookie recipe.” You can ask your AI assistant to order you more paper towels, calculate the time it will take you to get to your grandkids’ house, play your favorite song, or tell you a joke.
You will need something with a microphone so that it can hear your voice commands. Gadgets that have microphones are wide ranging from a cell phone, to a remote control device like your TV remote, to a special proprietary listening device, to a tablet. You need to have the computer program loaded somewhere – and have set up a login with the program.
After that, the sky’s the limit. Your Al assistant can run special electrical outlets, so you control your living room lamp in Phoenix while you’re traveling in Budapest. You can be visiting your grandkids in Rochester, New York, and answer your doorbell in Denver through a video chat.
Siri runs on Apple HomePod, as well as being available on your iPhone, iPad, Apple watch, and MacBook laptops, certain cars, and Macintosh desktops.
Alexa runs on Amazon’s Echo Dot, Echo Show, Fire TV Stick, Amazon Fire Tablet, AmazonBasics Microwave, and on Ring doorbells.
Google Assistant requires a Google Home Hub, an Android cellphone, Android tablet, laptop, computer, TV, certain cars, or OS by Google smartwatch.
Cortana comes preloaded on your Microsoft Windows 10 operating system on your laptop. It will run on pretty much any tech, from your iPhone to your Android. Cortana’s special listening device is a Harman Kardon Invoke.
It depends! You might even use multiple systems. Do you order a lot of things from Amazon? Then perhaps Alexa would be your best bet. Does your social life depend on your Google calendar and Gmail? Then perhaps Google Assistant makes the most sense. You may use multiple systems because you have an iPad or iPhone with Siri, yet you use Amazon for all of your ordering needs.
Apple’s Siri can entertain your grandkids for a good 5 minutes by telling stupid jokes. Ask Siri, “Hey Siri, tell me a joke.” Young kids will be ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing).
Alexa can read aloud to you from a Kindle book that you’ve purchased: “Alexa, read me the Kindle book Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel by Mark Sullivan.” Alexa reads every line, including the title page, so be sure to have the Amazon commands to skip ahead in the text.
Google Assistant can translate words in other languages. (All of the AI Assistants can.) Use “OK Google, how do you say ‘Cauliflower’ in Korean?”
Aside from the horror stories of children ordering toys or candy using Amazon’s Alexa, there have been other stories that have hit the news. In one case, a glitch in Alexa recorded the conversations of a couple and then emailed the conversations to an employee of the couple. An Amazon spokesperson explained it this way:
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right”. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
Recent news coverage has highlighted the information that Amazon and Google collect from their AI devices. In theory, if you have a light switch connected to your AI device, the services could extrapolate when you go to bed every night based on the time you turn off the lights in the living room. This is just one of the many trade-offs we may be making of our personal information for convenience.