try Amazon Echo in a browser


[Read the post]


Do I have to read all the terms and conditions, to confirm that by logging in to this, I’m consenting to Amazon recording whatever they can hear thru my computer in perpetuity, or is it just safe to assume that’s the case?


Pretty much assume they are recording everything from your product purchase to your tone and inflection.


After watching Iron Man, I’ve been sort of enamored of the idea of a servant AI like Jarvis/Friday. However at this point I’m in search of one whose primary master is me, rather than one beholden to people who really want me to buy their stuff.


Thus far they are all sort of useless. Hound may be headed in the direction we both want, but it certainly isn’t there today.


The problem is that there’s really very little for them to do that wouldn’t cause us to radically reevaluate home computer security practice.

Consider the following commands:

  • Make me a doctor’s appointment.
  • Renew my plate with the DMV.
  • Read my messages from Outlook.
  • Make a bulk order of Salami from
  • Call my wife/uncle/brother/in-law/mistress.

All of them require the service or device to retain vast quantities of personal data or infer them from your habits. Storing your kinship network to make the “call my uncle” command work is the first in a long list of things that a useful service would have to do (that it can do right now with technology we currently have) that require an overarching reliable security infrastructure not currently in place today. Ordering from 3rd party websites (Echo can only order from Amazon.) as long as they are relatively uniform or have a “voice-friendly” API is a useful ability that can easily be exploited by a website called

I’m not saying these problems are insurmountable, but they probably will need to be surmounted before these things are truly useful.


Also, as kitchen appliances join the Internet of Things and perhaps controllable by virtual assistants, the old joke involving genies and the ambiguous command “Make me a sandwich” might be a genuine (if gruesome) possibility.


But you see, I can do all of those things with my hands, and my hands don’t report back to our Corporate Masters. I’ll admit I use a browser for the DMV one, and a (get this) piece of paper for the grocery list. (Does that mean I’m a Maker?)

I do have to walk to the market and carry my own salami, but exercise hasn’t killed me yet.



Abracadabra, you are now next Thursday at 3:15PM


It didn’t work for me. Maybe I should get a microphone.


Owning something like this seems to be the opposite of OPSEC. All those years of spies and secret police working to sneak microphones into homes and offices, and now people are doing the work for them.


i told it to “terrorize the cat” and it told me “hopefully it will turn up when it is hungry” and likely added me to a watch list just in case because I used the T word. Meanwhile the cat is eyeing me with a smug look of indifference. Guess I’ll have to ask the Roomba, it knows how to obey that command.


What is the difference between this and other Siri-like applications? Is it the hands-free microphone? The disaster of the Apple Watch is that everybody already had an iPhone. Does the Echo add convenience?


The Echo is kinda convenient, for what it does. My wife and I got one for Xmas, and we used it for a week or two. But it kinda creeped her out, so we boxed it back up. I rather liked being able to ask it to play any particular song that entered my head while I was washing dishes, or to ask it about traffic or weather, or just “Alexa, tell me a joke.” I rarely was misunderstood by it (prolly 'cause I got that technology-default SoCal accent), and I’d use it all the goddamned time if I felt I could trust it 1/100th as far as I could throw it.


read? with a little bit of luck you can even watch the terms!


I have an Echo. Its primary use in our home is turning on and off our lights, which are all wired up with Wemo switches. “Alexa, turn off the movie lights” or “Alexa, turn on the office lights” is much much more pleasant than fumbling around for the Wemo app to do the same thing. As far as I’m concerned, this is a primary use case, and everything else is just gravy. We do occasionally use it to play music, or tell us the weather, but sadly the latter is not even close to as accurate as Dark Sky.


The big trick will be whether or not it ends up being surmounted fast enough to ever amount to much. It’s clearly possible to build an expert system that lives locally and isn’t effectively an emissary of a dubiously friendly power(yes, Amazon and Google and friends have much bigger computers; but they still couldn’t afford to make it ‘free’ if serving an individual’s requests were too computationally expensive, so while a personal version would be underutilized much of the time, the hardware required can’t be too intimidating); but doing it the creepy way has certain advantages: lots and lots of data for training your voice recognition, lots of handy social network data to mine to help draw inferences about ‘uncle’ and similar potentially confusing natural language usages, plus most of the big players (for consumer applications: vendors of call center hell IVRs and the like have similar tech but deeper pocketed clients with more interest in keeping data in-house) appear to be more optimistic about keeping it ‘in the cloud’ and using the service for some mixture of data mining, enhancing the appeal of their ecosystems; and making buying stuff from them easier.

If the helpful-spybot versions are available better and sooner(and it certainly looks like that is the case) it is entirely possible that local versions may be relegated to a niche of offline systems, entities with legal or trade secret reasons to keep things in house, and hardcore free software nerds even if they become adequately mature.

It has happened with various other things going ‘cloud’, even ones where the local software was available and mature for years before the eternally-at-the-vendor’s-whim version was out of beta; and in this case it’s the cloud version that is maturing faster.


It’s one of the ugly ironies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: various totalitarian regimes took the first crack at building surveillance states; but they couldn’t keep the cost, complexity, and sheer unpopularity from eventually dragging them down.

Now the ‘free world’ is taking a turn, and it turns out that good old innovation(with a hefty dose of advertising) is not only capable of building a more pervasive surveillance apparatus; but of operating it at a profit. What could possibly go wrong?


Wait, is your wife, uncle, brother, in-law, and mistress the same person?!

You definitely don’t have anywhere in all of South Carolina to pee.