Yeh, right, when pigs fly. Your history powers their "AI". Aint no unlearning that.
Just yet another reminder that GDPR is the bare minimum for something like internet to be tolerable.
I think I'm being clueless, but I can't figure out what this sentence means. Is there a typo in it?
I think that this is an important point. Obviously there's more computing power available in Apple/Google/whoever's data centres than on my device, and I'm sure that is, or at least was, a concern; but I also don't believe that they are indifferent to the utility of sitting on such a huge volume of user-submitted, real-world data.
Alexa is a gimmick because it's a speech-to-text command line, and it's sold as being smart even though it's not. Since before I was a kid in the 90s, there have been many attempts to revolutionize computing with speech-to-text technology. Because speaking comes so naturally to us, it's easy to assume that voice-activated anything is better than pushing buttons. In reality, without intelligence and autonomy, lots of interfaces are made slightly worse with voice activation. For those who aren't visually impaired, the ability to use voice to turn off lights barely even makes sense. Alexa frequently gets things wrong and activates from sounds that aren't even close to the wake-word. The ability to create lists is barely practical because it so often can't understand a word, in which case the user has to go to the Alexa app and manually punch in the item.
Voice control would be great if it were revolutionized, but it's hardly in a different state than it was decades ago. The only two things that have changed are improved speech synthesis and ample cloud computing. Because of this, most people I know who own one barely use them beyond a select number of features that are hard to get wrong like "Alexa, what's the weather?" or "Alexa, what time is it?". My parents still sometimes use it to play music(which I gave up on as a music fan), but it gets requests hilariously wrong 1/5 times.
I have an Echo Dot which I use almost exclusively for a few static purposes: the weather, setting alarms, turning my lights on and off, and asking what time it is.
I also ask it basic questions like whether various sports teams won or what time they're playing, which it also answers well.
Not sure why you think it is useless just because it's not a magical general AI that can do everything.
I find it extremely useful.
> For those who aren't visually impaired, the ability to use voice to turn off lights barely even makes sense
I'm not visually impaired and I use this feature all the time. It allows me to turn off the light when reading in bed without having to get up and walk to the light switch.
> most people I know who own one barely use them beyond a select number of features that are hard to get wrong
Yeah, exactly. How does this make it useless?
> the weather, setting alarms, (...) and asking what time it is.
You can do that on your phone. Even assuming you wanted it hands-free, it doesn't justify an always-on microphone sending data to the cloud. We had the tech to do this level of voice recognition reliably in the 2000s.
> It allows me to turn off the light when reading in bed without having to get up and walk to the light switch.
Kids from my generation used to solder clap detectors for like $5-$10, and they're already more reliable and faster to use.
Voice is cool, it's like being in Star Trek. I get it, I built my own system to control music in the 2000s, complete with audio responses snipped from Star Trek shows. But the feeling of "living in the future" wears off pretty quick, and you're left with a ridiculously expensive and user-hostile gimmick.
This is a dishonest characterization of how every smart speaker in existence works. There is no continuous stream as this statement implies.
There is a continuous buffer of a couple of seconds for the device to locally catch a wake word. (You can verify this by disabling the device's internet connectivity - it will still catch the wake word and speak an apologetic message about not being able to connect). Also, changing the wake word requires a full restart, which says "firmware" to me.
After the wake word is spoken, that buffer and anything immediately after it is what gets sent up to the cloud for voice recognition.
The buffer serves a purpose in that it prevents an awkward pause between the wake word and the action reqeusted. (So you get to do "Alexa, turn on the lights" rather than "Alexa? bong Turn on the lights.")
The "user hostility" and "gimmick"-ness of this design is entirely subjective and quite overblown, in that "nobody will ever use Dropbox when they could just use rsync and a cronjob"-type bias that HN tends to have.
I'd say it beats the alternative from a pure functionality standpoint.
It is genuinely useful to have a no-hands-required timer in the kitchen, and being able to turn off the bedroom lights when I'm done reading for the night without having to reach for a switch is great.
I was even pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Alexa's Skyrim. Sure, it's really more of a joke as it is, but it made me think that some choose-your-own-adventure skills would be a lot of fun.
(Asking Alexa to play white noise to help me sleep has been nice, too.)
And a basic raspberry pi could be programmed to cycle through the weather, alarms, lights, time. I guess the crux of doing it that way however, is taking personal responsibility for security, which still seems better if you're slightly lax at it, than sharing your "house microphone" with a multi-billion dollar company with motivation to exploit it.
I already trust all those manufacturers not to secretly upload everything I say to the cloud. Why is amazon any different?
My wife tends to prefer using the TV as her reading light. I find that rather bizarre but she likes the background noise. In any case, TVs have remote controls and sleep timers so that mitigates the need for voice control.
To be honest, I couldn’t think of a place I’d less want an Echo than the bedroom. Even the bathroom seems less inappropriate (eg you might want music when in the shower / bath).
The primary use of my Alexa devices is being a voice-controlled IP radio. I paid about $300 many years ago for Logitech/Slim Devices' crack at this, the Squeezebox, and I loved it.
Now, I get that same functionality for $40 shipped with more on top. Everything else is a bonus. including the smart home stuff - being able to turn the lights on with grocery bags in hand is damn futuristic.
Does it screw up sometimes? Sure. But it beats the hell out of a keyboard or dials for the use case.
These days the only thing my Echo does which is remotely useful is setting named timers while cooking. So I can have my hands dirty with raw meat and ask Alexa to set various timers for each step of the meal. I found that particularly good when cooking meals that have large gaps in time between stages (like Sunday roasts when there can be 5 minutes or more between the cooking times of different vegetables). However even there it sometimes becomes more trouble than its worth when it starts mishearing names of vegetables or duration numbers when spoken.
The most disappointing thing is that I spent a few days working with Alexa’s - frankly terrible - SDK to integrate it into my existing home automation (all stuff I’ve built myself and powered by a FreeBSD server). Not only was the development progress of Alexa skills amongst the most frustrating I’ve had in my ~30 years of experience writing software; but it turned out to be a complete waste of my time because Alexa is so piss poor at any interactions more complex than the very basic (as you described). It’s also very laggy at such interactions so even when it does work it feels slow. So slow, in fact, that it ends up taking longer and being more painful using the voice control than it would have been to wake my laptop from sleep and trigger the same HTTP API endpoints Alexa would used but instead doing so manually from the command line using curl. So needless to say I very quickly gave up using Alexa for home automation.
Also, based on every other case where I've tried voice recognition, I have to learn to speak in an extra-distinct and artificial way for a computer. (I don't think I have an unusual accent, but I can say "TRACK A PACKAGE" into the receiver all day long and not get where I want to go, even though no human would have trouble with it.) What's the point in that?
I.e. "Political threads are the nadir of discussion on HN"
On the 3rd one, voice actually made the smart home easier. To use a smart light bulb you had to unlock your phone, open an app, login, and do your thing. Now I tell my Alexa/Google to do it and it's super easy.
Also the chromecast integration on Google Home is killer "OK google play pandora on TV" or "Play xyz on youtube on tv"
(10% of the time she responds with, "OK, your six a-m alarm is off." I don't know why.)
What's less obvious is that they store everything and most definitely index it so it can be used later against you (all it takes is one legal action - separation, police, you name it).
What's further disappointing is that Amazon stores the transcribed text. Which may be incorrect but deemed "truth".