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Look, your voice assistant is watching you undress!

Intelligent, voice-controlled cameras may offer smart advise, but can also ruin your life

brunch Updated: May 06, 2017 20:24 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Amazon Echo Look,Hackers,Intelligent mirror
The Amazon Echo Look is like an intelligent mirror that gives you front and back looks in real-time

I’ll admit it. That headline you see on top is pure click bait. But unlike typical click bait fodder, which is a sinful combination of some truth and some imaginative twists given to it, this one is unfortunately the whole truth. Your all-new voice assistant device helps you handle your daily life, obeys your every command, takes a selfie, advises on how you’re looking, gets you professional dressing tips from stylists and also spies on you all day without you knowing it. Think about all that you do in the area you dress up, in your bedroom and as you come out after taking a shower. Now, don’t think about it! See it in cinemascope technicolour full HD as it’ll all be recorded and kept stored and will be accessible to god knows who all!

Bionic ears

Yes, the Amazon Echo has gained a camera. A really good one! For those who are unaware or have been living under a stone for the last few years; the Amazon Echo is a small cylindrical device that has an array of microphones that hears all your commands and answers them with a built-in assistant called Alexa. Ask it to add an appointment, read out your calendar, play a song, update your shopping list, hail an Uber cab, update you about traffic and about a million other things and Alexa responds quickly and intelligently. And now, Alexa of the good ears also has sprouted eyes. Big beautiful ones that can do things no voice assistant has done before.

Amazon Echo Look has a great camera that can shoot fantastic pictures, take selfies or even a video

First, the good stuff

The next generation of Amazon Echo is called Echo Look, and it now has a fantastic camera that can really look deep into your life. Ask it to take a selfie, a video, blur out the background so that you and your clothes truly stand out, twirl around and look at yourself full length back to front in real-time, ask it for advice on two different outfits and get immediate analysis from top stylists, look at every outfit you’ve worn in the last few months and never repeat anything inadvertently and a dozen other things too. It’s basically an intelligent mirror and clothes horse dream – all rolled into one. The already over-amplified world of selfies gets an even bigger boost. Ask for a selfie or video to be uploaded to Instagram or take more nude selfies for Snapchat without the awkward angles of holding a phone in the hand or get Alexa to record your next self-celeb porn video without any costly equipment to install. The mind boggles to think of the potential of this device and technology.

And now, the reality check

The mind also boggles at the incredible abuse, surveillance and privacy issues devices like this create. Amazon has thoughtfully given an on/off button for the camera, but that only serves to underline the problem. Hacking into webcams on laptops and phones has always been rated as the easiest of the lot. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, FBI Director James Comey and almost every top executive at security agencies in India and abroad cover their laptop camera with black tape! The reason – cameras that are online and can stream or send videos can be easily hacked into. At least laptops can be taped off. But this device is a different ball game. This will be specially bought and placed in a very private area with the purpose of that camera being used multiple times a day. Deliberately and by choice. The day is not far when the website has billions of videos online including yours.

While Amazon has given an on /off button in the Echo Look, hacking into webcams on laptops and phones has always been rated as an easy job. That’s why, all top executives cover their laptop camera with tape

Camera sense

So why would Amazon go down this path? Well, for one, its actually a great idea and it’s a fantastic use of technology. It’s also the next logical step in the evolution of digital assistants, a business worth billions in the next few years. But there’s more to it. The clothing business is worth 2.4 trillion dollars worldwide and Amazon wants a big piece of that fashion pie. It’s already the biggest retailer of fashion in USA and wants that market everywhere, including India. And in fashion, data is king and the kind of data a device like this will generate for Amazon makes them Supremo Emperor! Images and videos gathered by Echo Look will be stored on the company’s cloud. Permanently. Amazon now gets its hands onto tonnes of visual data, knows your taste and makes recommendations. You’re going to give all this information voluntarily and, even pay for it.

Isn’t it uncanny that almost every new breakthrough technology seems to have an even more frightening pound of flesh payment back into the system? That shiny little gizmo that you can’t wait to get your hands on. Well, the gizmo can’t wait to get its hands onto you and then never let go!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, May 7, 2017

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First Published: May 06, 2017 20:24 IST