Amazon Echo: The Big Brother you never had


Adam Bieda, Editor-in-Chief

It’s a known fact that science fiction movies and books prior to 2000 predicted several of today’s technological norms. This includes devices and functions like touchscreen computers, also seen in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game; wearable technology, as shown in Back to the Future Part II; and Siri, similar to 2001: The Space Odyssey’s artificial intelligence system, “Al.” While the technology could be useful, some advances may be unnecessary, and even a little creepy—I’m talking about you, Amazon Echo.

This cylindrical device takes Siri’s answering capabilities to a whole new level, outside of manual switches to the world of automatic voice recognition. The Echo is always on, but it only operates when it hears it’s programmed name, “Amazon” or “Alexa.” In its promotional videos, “Alexa” is used to putting the device to work, leading to its eventual adoption into the family as an actual person. Alexa is primarily asking for quick answers and solutions. “She” also has timing functions and a speaker to play music throughout the user’s home.

Now, the Echo could just be a stepping stone to even greater technological advances but, for the time being, it has given rise to a few issues. First, since the Echo is always on, it is always listening to you—your private conversations, your embarrassing singing voice when you’re home alone, and the secrets you provide to your dog. When “turned on,” it uses your vocal information to more easily detect your speech patterns, including your everyday vocabulary, and your preferences, based on your searches. I don’t even like when people screenshot my text conversations and send them out to people; what does Amazon do with the unnecessary, private information supplied when the Echo is “turned off”?

The Echo is hooked up to the Amazon Cloud—making it easier to send and receive data for more expedient and frequent system updates. Or is this a way for Amazon to have easier access to the private information you’ve leaked in your conversations if they happen to be within the listening radius of the Echo? Let’s not forgot how the National Security Association (NSA) easily tapped into cell phone records. With constant, wireless access to our conversations, technology like the Echo may have unspoken uses for security.

Outside of a paranoia-driven sense for security, the Echo may have detrimental influences on the overall intelligence capacity of our society. The inevitable dependence on the device for quick information may influence users to be lazier, choosing to ask a quick question instead of going on an information search of their own. Before technology, our searches required attention to detail and persistence to find the right answer. With the advances of recent technology, the search has been quickened; but the Echo essentially removes the actual search and provides short bursts of information, enabling the user to find, use and forget answers.

As a society driven to discover and recount information, we should be more cautious in the technology that we use. Instead of becoming victim to the laziness involved with the Echo, we should strive to find multiple answers to our singular questions. We should be willing to sift through evidence ourselves instead of giving the responsibility to a talking cylinder. While a computerized assistant like Echo could be useful, it could also impose a breach on our personal space by endlessly listening in on our conversations, reporting our interests and secrets to Amazon through the Cloud. Thus, even information we find on our own could be claimed in the echo of the Echo.