What is it about the new Amazon Echo that gives me the creeps?

November 11, 2014

So Amazon have released Siri in a box. Big deal. But there’s something faintly disconcerting about it all.

As the Guardian’s writer alludes, there is a faint feel of Skynet about the whole thing, but it’s not just that. Without wanting to go too Aral Balkan about the whole thing, I wouldn’t want to deliberately install a piece of spyware in my house. The other spyware on my phone, the stuff that I’m in denial about, that’s a different matter.

As this parody video shows, always-available search is making us lazy. Far from giving us knowledge, it gives us an excuse to be ignorant, allowing us to outsource our memory.

Why do I find it so creepy?

Maybe it’s because the machine chooses the result. With search engines in browsers, no matter what we think (or don’t think) about the algorithm used to choose the results, we make the choice of which result to pay attention to. With this kind of interface, the device makes the choice for us. We’re going even further into Orwell territory, and never mind the problems of incorrect speech recognition.

Maybe we are reaching a tipping point with all of this, a point where consumers and developers need to think more about the choices they make. But maybe it’s too late. People want the shiny. They want the Star Trek interfaces and they don’t mind ceding a little power to the machine if that’s the price. But for me, I want computers to be tools that are under my control.