Help, Alexa!

Written by:
Lucie Sadler
Date Posted:
2 March 2018
New Tech

Does listening mean being responsible for what you hear?

Always listening
Voice assistants are always listening, apparently. From inane chatter over breakfast, to rows over whose turn it is to take the bins out. They’re waiting in the background, ready to spring into action at your request.

So, what would happen if you were a victim of crime? If you saw someone being attacked, you’d grab your phone and dial for help. But when Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant hears a cry for help, don’t they just sit waiting for their cue to act?

Fitting the pattern
There’s a lot of controversy over how much voice assistants *really* hear. A lot of it is down to how the product is designed, and whether they can decipher between background chatter and an actual request for help. So, would the device ignore a cry for help because it doesn’t fit with a particular pattern, even though it’s listening to everything that happens?

Here comes a strange moral dilemma (or not – inanimate object here). Are voice assistants participating in classic bystander behaviour? If these devices can detect anger or fear in people’s voices, why aren’t they reacting by asking questions or calling the police? It simply comes down to technology – the capabilities just aren’t there yet.

Call for help
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. If developments in technology mean that voice assistants are able to react to calls for help and make emergency calls, this equipment could be used by police and emergency services across the world. Here’s where the lines blur though – it would have to be pretty advanced technology to be able to detect what was an accident like standing on a plug, an argument, or actual crime taking place.

Does listening mean being responsible for what you hear? Answers in the comments.

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