If you let your imagination run wild in the world of automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU), and you throw in a little fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), you can come up with several illegal uses for systems such as Alexa Voice Service, Google Home, Siri, and Cortana that will give you pause. Just for fun, let’s play pretend in our world of infinite possibilities.
The superstar of CES® 2017 was not a car, or a robot, or even a TV; it was Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the software that allows you to control compatible devices with your voice. Various reports estimated there were 700–1,100 Alexa-controllable products at the show. I can't verify the number, but "and it works with Alexa" was the running gag at CES. The familiar Amazon/Alexa logo seemed to be everywhere.
Unless you turn off the microphones and use a button or a remote, Alexa Voice Service and other IVCSs are always listening. Let me be the first to scream … "Look out!"
I'm not really worried about rogue computers threatening our lives. I'm worried about the small number of programmers and coders charged with realizing the financial and political goals of their patrons. Could a ubiquitous social network skew or even direct an election? Could a traffic control system delay certain people from getting to work on time? Could an AI-enhanced financial services company deny loans or insurance due to zip code or race because it is the "best outcome" based on its programming? Could we train the AI that controls our news, communications and entertainment to restrict us to our comfort zones without even realizing what we've done?
Opining about the future of AI at the recent Brilliant Minds event at Symposium Stockholm, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt rejected warnings from Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking about the dangers of AI, saying, "In the case of Stephen Hawking, although a brilliant man, he's not a computer scientist. Elon is also a brilliant man, though he too is a physicist, not a computer scientist." This absurd dismissal of Musk and Hawking was in response to an absurd question about "the possibility of an artificial superintelligence trying to destroy mankind in the near future." However, in Commander #1's immortal words, "We've analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger."