In this world of fast-paced development, we are completely bounded by technology and its developments. Technology has created amazing tools and resources, putting useful information at our fingertips. Modern technology has made it possible for the discovery of many multi-functional devices like voice assistants, GPS, smartwatches, and smartphones. With all of these revolutions, technology has also made our lives easier, faster, better… and much more fun. Voice digital assistants or virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana, and Blackberry Assistant are the ones that are quite famous in today’s generation.
A virtual assistant is basically a form of technology which understands our voice demands and performs the tasks asked by the user. Virtual assistants are available on mobile phones, tablets, laptops and in hardware forms, and these days also available on Google home and Amazon Alexa echo. They combine specialized computer chips, microphones, and softwares that respond to specific spoken commands from the user and usually answer back with the voice choice selected. By reading this, it might give an impression that they are capable of doing only basic stuff.
But NO! Virtual assistants like these have a variety of abilities including not only answering questions but, telling jokes, playing music, and controlling items in a house such as lights, thermostat, door locks, and smart home devices. They can respond to all sorts of voice commands, send text messages, make phone calls, set up reminders, make to-do lists and not only this, in many foreign countries, these assistants even prevent thefts. Talking about preventing thefts the popular app ‘away mode’ on Alexa, has been designed to prevent robberies in the absence of the homeowner. On one command, it can initiate a virtual conversation thereby bluffing the burglars that there are people inside the house. Now, this is something fascinating, right?
These virtual assistants, over time, have become a part of the family itself and one can teach the assistant new languages, converse with the assistant and can set routines on these assistants which makes these an integral part of our lives. It has also been predicted that in the next four years the number of smart assistants will outnumber the number of people in the world. But it is here that the problem arises. After all, these assistants are nothing but pieces of technology created by human brains. And someone has rightly said
“To err is to human”.
Now, various flaws have been detected in these virtual assistants which have been subjected to the breach of privacy of an individual. The recent case of a U.S family whose concerns were realized recently when it was reported that an Amazon Echo device recorded a conversation and then promptly messaged it to an employee of a family member who is on the family’s contact list. What exactly happened remains unclear: Amazon’s investigation revealed that it was an unfortunate, and an unusual situation, the string of events led Alexa to ‘mishear’ a series of words in the background conversation that it interpreted as commands; while the family claims they didn’t hear Alexa asking for any confirmation before sending their conversation. Whatever the sequence of events, the incident highlights how such devices may be responsible for potentially serious breaches of personal data. Although Apple and Amazon state that users have control over their data, data potentially can be shared with third parties and the incident highlights how under performing new technology or a glitch may inadvertently result in a personal data breach with potentially serious consequences. The commands given by the users get stored in the memory of these devices and these devices can easily be hacked thereby leading to the trespassing of one’s privacy.
Various banks like the Citi Bank and JP Morgan Chase and Co. have shown their interests in these virtual assistants and that these banks might link the various bank accounts of the people with the virtual assistants. This further raises suspicions among the user groups. Further, speculations regarding the working of these devices also rises when many times, these devices start various songs themselves without any command by the users. Steps that consumers can take to protect their privacy include muting their device when not in use, deleting recordings and refraining from connecting financial accounts to their device.
Now various other negatives which make the use of these devices somewhat limited are the high initial costs of buying these devices and the requirement of high-speed internet. And believe it or not, these devices might also become a reason for your increasing weight! Since the current scenario in itself restricts the movements of the people for performing small tasks like turning on fans and lights, one might become a couch potato in the next few years! Also, more developments would lead to a reduction in the physical activity of the people. At last, I would just say that every coin has two sides. So we must look at the positive side of these assistants and use them in a restricted and reasonable manner. A wise man has rightly said
“Technology should improve your life, not become your life”