AI is All Ears

An Amazon Echo is positioned on a table next to a bed

writer icon Paige Whitehead     Amazon   |   Tech     🕐 10. Sep. 2018

“AI is always listening”. It sounds scary until we remember how easy AI actually make our lives. AI can order us food, make our appointments, choose our entertainment, and much more just by obeying our command. Many have come to rely on AI and what it can do, and this does not have to be a bad thing.

Should AI Be Our Friend? 

As AI becomes more advanced and sounds more realistic, it begs the question - will we befriend AI? Online friendships are more common than ever and not as harmful as originally thought.

We already speak to machines as if they are human. Would having better conversations with AI make that much of a difference? Sophia, a humanoid listening robot, has made headlines for her facial expressions and witty retorts. Society has already accepted her, tweeting about her and giving her appearances on TV shows.

New Generation of Technology

AI is the largest technological leap since the internet. Young children have little problem communicating with chatbots like Alexa or Siri. Many parents use technology as a form of babysitter, placing their child in front of a screen to distract them from their tantrum. It should be no surprise then, that Amazon has made a child-friendly mode for Alexa that even rewards children for being polite.

Children see AI differently than adults do. To children, Alexa and Siri are friends, not machines, and have limitless capacity, just as humans do. Children have no problem conversing with the devices, rather than just ordering it to obey. Are children just being children, or is this an insight into how we view AI?

Hear me and obey

Adults are not immune to AI either. Google Duplex is advertised as a personal assistant, able to make appointments and keep a schedule. Devices like Microsoft’s Kinect can switch from Xbox apps to cable TV without a remote. Having Apple’s Siri open GPS keeps hands on the steering wheel rather than on the phone.

Many companies have automated telephone lines. An automated voice listens on the other end of the line, understands, and either solves the problem itself or directs the call to someone who can help. Phone scams are also comprised of automated voices, meant to record someone’s personal details for theft under the guise of sounding legitimate.

Society has become accustomed to technology responding to them. From autocorrect to touch screens to voice recognition, technology has developed around our desire to be responded to. AI has been created for us and by us.

Further into the Future 

AI has many potentials other than instant gratification. Listening technology could be further improved to help children with their speech. If AI can understand a child’s beginner speech, it could correct it and still provide what the child asked.

AI could be used to transcribe what the child said onto a screen, helping them to learn to read. AI could listen for changes in a newborn's breathing and alert the parents if there was a problem. If given enough of a personality, AI could also help young children develop social skills by engaging in an appropriate conversation.

Underprivileged children, children in isolated communities, or children who are homebound could benefit greatly from such technology. Adults who suffer from poor social skills may also benefit. Where the internet may have turned people inward, AI may turn them outward again.

People with speech disabilities may one day be able to converse with an AI who understands them and has endless patience. Blind people could have their words seamlessly dictated into a conversation or novel. Those who suffer from mental disorders, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease could have someone who never tires of their conversation. The lonely could always have a friend.

The Pros and Cons of Constant Recording

In order to answer a command, the device must always be listening. The ethics surrounding privacy are already being debated, but if the device is always listening and recording, what does that mean for the future?

It is difficult to imagine a world where every spoken word is recorded. But with AI technology that possibility is very real. Could AIs be subpoenaed for court, or give testimony in the form of recorded conversations? It could provide alibis and has the potential to prove gossip, an affair, and even murder.

It could also be an invaluable asset, reminding you of last night’s epiphany or recalling the dinner details you discussed with a friend over the phone.

With any new technology, there is always fear and praise. AI has already seamlessly inserted itself into our daily lives. It makes things easier and it likely will not go away any time soon. Do we even want AI to go away, or does our comfort outweigh our concern?

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