Alexa is now smart enough to know when you’re actually talking to your Amazon Echo
To avoid every Amazon Echo within earshot of the big game and the relevant ads, Amazon actually taught Alexa to ignore the wake-up command it so readily responds to. This meant that, during the 90-second ad Amazon aired during the Super Bowl, nobody’s Amazon Echo would wake up and start ordering goods or answering questions.
While this weekend was actually one of the first times Amazon’s new technology has been rolled out, it actually began working on such problems years ago, patenting the technology back in 2014.
The patent, as Bloomberg reports, calls for transmitting a snippet of a commercial to an Echo device before it airs. The Echo then compares live commands to the acoustic fingerprint of the snippet to determine if the commands are authentic or not. Another method utilises transmitting an inaudible acoustic signal during an advert to tell Alexa to ignore a wake word.
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In a blog post, Amazon’s director for speech recognition Manoj Sindhwani explained how this method was going to be rolled out ahead of the Super Bowl to prevent millions of devices activating all at once.
“When multiple devices start waking up simultaneously from a broadcast event, similar audio is streaming to Alexa’s cloud services,” the post explains. “An algorithm within Amazon’s cloud detects matching audio from distinct devices and prevents additional devices from responding. The dynamic fingerprinting isn’t perfect, but as many as 80 to 90% of devices won’t respond to these broadcasts thanks to the dynamic creation of the fingerprints.”
It’s a smart solution to an increasing problem with home assistants listening in when they’re not meant to be. In the past we’ve seen the likes of South Park pranking Echo users and even Alexa ordering $170 dollhouses to Echo owners in San Diego thanks to a news report. Though crucially, it’s not clear whether Amazon’s new solution would actually fix these instances: South Park’s creators were deliberately doing it as a prank, so wouldn’t tell Amazon in advance – and the dollhouse fiasco was completely accidental, so they couldn’t have warned the company ahead of time either.
Still, it’s good news – assuming Google follows suit for its own assistant. Since Google changed its wake-word from “Ok Google” to include “Hey Google”, both my Pixel 2 XL and Google Home have been having a ball responding to an advert about gym memberships.
Although, perhaps that’s just my virtual assistant trying to tell me something. Thanks, Google.