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Amazon Updates Echo, Echo Dot To Let You Address It As 'Computer' (theverge.com) 134

ewhac writes: "Computer, what is the time, please?" is now a spoken command that will actually work with Amazon's updated Alexa/Echo smart speaker. Previously, your options were "Alexa," "Echo," and "Amazon." Now you can also choose, "Computer." In practice, it's a bit clunkier than you might hope, depending on how often you speak the word "computer" on a day-to-day basis; and "computer" is harder for machine speech recognition to pick out than "Alexa," so it may not hear you as reliably. But for those who've been yearning for a Star Trek-like future, this small bit of silliness gets you one step closer.
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Amazon Updates Echo, Echo Dot To Let You Address It As 'Computer'

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  • Amazon spam (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @07:48PM (#53731989)

    One thing I have noticed is all the Amazon spam stories on here that mention "Alexa" and "Echo" and obliquely refer to how "successful" they are in terms of sales. The fact is that the Echo and Alexa are a market failure. All the stories they submit won't get around that fact.

    • 5.1M is considered a failure? [geekwire.com]

      Everyone I know with one personally likes. I bought our Echo on pre-order as a Prime member and have since bought 2 dots. One for my office and one for my shop. Companies are

      It has a lot of problems, it's nowhere near Star Trek's but it's a really good Alpha. They are adding a lot of tools and it's pretty trivial to setup your own. I use HomeAssistant [home-assistant.io] to run our smart switches.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        5.1M people paid to spy on themselves.

      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        How much does Amazon pay you for all of the data they're collecting on you and your family?
        • With my time.

          What exact conversations are you having in your living room that you're afraid of the NSA listening too? I've assumed they've been reading my e-mails and listening to me for over a decade. Back when I was called a 'nutter' for it before Snowden told everyone what they were doing. Just like I assume that any creeper can take photos of me when I go out in public.

          Unless you take measures to make sure you're not being intercepted and listen to just assume you are, not that I agree with that but it'

          • by DogDude ( 805747 )
            Wow, you're cheap. What would you let your personal dignity go for? A few bucks?
            • You either undervalue your time or your time isn't worth that much to begin with.

              What is your time worth? What can I pay you to take away one hour of your day in which you aren't allowed to do anything you want? What would you pay to have an hour of time back with your family?

              Yeah, I give up money for free time. Just like I shop for food at the store instead of tilling a field and picking crops. Just like how I now pay someone to do oil changes for me. Just like how I pay the natural gas company to deliver

              • by DogDude ( 805747 )
                Money is one thing, but you're not spending your money. You're spending all of the intimate details of your life for the sake of some small conveniences. That seems like a bad deal for you, and a really good one for Amazon.
          • by Tran ( 721196 )

            My daughter plays music loud enough on Alexa that Alexa can't hear us to respond.
            I either go over to reduce volume manually or via the app.

            Just another possible layer of obfuscation to keep in mind.

            • My plan for the next big war:

              Navajo Teen Talkers. Hire a bunch of 13-17 year old male gamers and female social media gurus and hide chatter in those mediums.

              "Agent 45 just said he's going to plunder my mother tonight. Get that message decoded".

    • Re:Amazon spam (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:35PM (#53732155)

      The fact is that the Echo and Alexa are a market failure.

      Their cumulative sales passed 5 million [geekwire.com] in November, and it is estimated that they sold another million during the holidays. That is pretty good for a product in a category that didn't even exist a few years ago. I have an Echo, and I am mostly pretty happy with it, although there is still plenty of room for improvement.

      Free advice: Do NOT switch to calling it "Computer". The name "Alexa" was specifically chosen as a trigger word because it is a sequence of phonemes that is unlikely to occur in a normal conversation, and even so, we have had an occasional false trigger. In a nerd household, "computer" will come up way, way more often.

      • by rthille ( 8526 )

        I want to be able to call it Zorg. I almost never say Zorg. And I can't imagine that Zorg sounds like anything else. Alexa on the other hand seems to get triggered inadvertently fairly often.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          And have your Echo fire a million Amazon workers every time you rewatch The Fifth Element? You're a monster.

        • Nothing sounds like Zorg? In a thread about making your Echo more like the computer in STAR TREK, you don't think BORG sounds like Zorg?
        • "I'd had some yams, organic broccoli, and shrimp."
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Except when you have friends with similar names (Alexa, Alexia, Alexis/Elexis, Alex), etc. I have three friends whose names are close enough that they would cause a false trigger risk if I ever talked to them on the phone from inside my house. By contrast, I can't remember the last time I said the word "computer" out loud... anywhere.

      • Do NOT switch to calling it "Computer". The name "Alexa" was specifically chosen as a trigger word because it is a sequence of phonemes that is unlikely to occur in a normal conversation, and even so, we have had an occasional false trigger.

        Wut? I always thought it was for the Amazon owned analytics company that distributes an annoying browser toolbar.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Do NOT switch to calling it "Computer". The name "Alexa" was specifically chosen as a trigger word because it is a sequence of phonemes that is unlikely to occur in a normal conversation, and even so, we have had an occasional false trigger. In a nerd household, "computer" will come up way, way more often.

        I still don't understand why they can't just keep a rolling file of the last 10-15 seconds of conversation to determine whether I'm addressing the thing or referring to the thing. I mean, if it hears stuff like:

        "what you do is say 'computer' and then..."
        "...it should be on my computer's desktop, let me..."
        "Hey where have you put my computer?"
        "Hang on... Computer, make me a sandwich"

        It should only react to the last one. I would expect that if we can recognise words, we can start to recognise rudimentary sent

      • Unless you have a family member named Alex or Alexa.
        • Plus, accents, pronunciation, and speech vary, obviously, So, while speech recognition and processing certainly has become quite sophisticated, one person's "alex" or "alexi" could sound just like another person's "alexa".

      • by cusco ( 717999 )

        My wife has a strong (and quite lovely) Peruvian accent, for some reason the Dot seems to have trouble with it. (She won't take the time to do the voice training for it.) She just wants to refer to it as "Hey, Bitch!"

        I think she's a little jealous of the Dot and how much I talk to it. Of course since Alexa is the only one in the house that actually does what I tell it to I think that's understandable.

        • I don't know if a Peruvian accent sounds anything like a Colombian accent, but I just imagined Sofia Vergara shouting "Hey, bitch!" across the house and contemplated how you might enjoy that!
        • Mine too. She believes Siri hates her. :P
    • One thing I have noticed is all the Amazon spam stories on here that mention "Alexa" and "Echo" and obliquely refer to how "successful" they are in terms of sales. The fact is that the Echo and Alexa are a market failure. All the stories they submit won't get around that fact.

      I need to know Alexa's middle name. That way she'll know that she'd BETTER answer, or there'll be hell to pay!!

  • Fine (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @07:50PM (#53731995)

    Just as long as it doesn't get fresh [youtube.com] with me.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know, if you could get a Sigourney Weaver add-on to repeat everything it said to me, it might be persuaded.

    • There is only one name I would want for it...

      And then, of course, to get those pod bay doors fitted...
      Worth it? Perhaps not.. It wont live, but then again, who does.
      Thankfully all these moments will be lost in time.

      Oops, crossing the mems again.

  • My dreams...they have come true.

    Now, to hunt down an empty original Mac case and mouse.

  • "Just use the keyboard."

    "Keyboard. How quaint."
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Computer! Destruct sequence 1, code 1-1A.

    • I told my friend's Google Home device to "activate self destruct", and it said "no, I think I'll stick around for a while". Damn insubordinate computers!
      • You can't forget the three laws...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Don't you need the correct destruct codes for yourself and another officer in order for it to work?

      • heh, I just tried this with Alexa and seems they thought of that too...

        "Auto destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Boom! Hmm, that did not go as planned..."

  • Why stop there? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tehrasha ( 624164 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:01PM (#53732047) Homepage
    Let the user pick a personalized name like they would for any child or pet.
    • Let the user pick a personalized name like they would for any child or pet.

      Since it's only listening for specific "wake words" and this processing must be done on the device itself, I imagine it's easier for them to code a few specific wake words into the firmware (and perhaps not even possible to do much more; I'm not sure we know much about its hardware)--everything else you speak afterwards (and, so they say, only this speech) is sent to AWS or whatnot where there's a lot more processing power, which I imagine that allowing the user to configure an arbitrary word would also tak

      • Re:Why stop there? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @11:21PM (#53732765) Homepage

        Let the user pick a personalized name like they would for any child or pet.

        Since it's only listening for specific "wake words" and this processing must be done on the device itself, I imagine it's easier for them to code a few specific wake words into the firmware (and perhaps not even possible to do much more; I'm not sure we know much about its hardware)--everything else you speak afterwards (and, so they say, only this speech) is sent to AWS or whatnot where there's a lot more processing power, which I imagine that allowing the user to configure an arbitrary word would also take.

        I believe the way it works is that it looks for a couple phonemes and if those phonemes match it wakes up, makes sure it is a match and starts processing. If they can change it between 3 or 4 phoneme groups, it would seem like they could fairly easily allow you to choose which phonemes you want it to match. My guess is they don't do this for 2 reasons. The first is that people would be stupid and try to pick something like 'bob' or 'anne' without realizing that it is not complex enough for safe triggers. The second which relates to the first as well is marketing. It is good marketing to have someone constantly saying 'amazon' or 'alexa' over and over. 'Computer' is cute but it's also likely an attempt to corral that keyword the same way microsoft took the word windows.

        • by dj245 ( 732906 )

          Let the user pick a personalized name like they would for any child or pet.

          Since it's only listening for specific "wake words" and this processing must be done on the device itself, I imagine it's easier for them to code a few specific wake words into the firmware (and perhaps not even possible to do much more; I'm not sure we know much about its hardware)--everything else you speak afterwards (and, so they say, only this speech) is sent to AWS or whatnot where there's a lot more processing power, which I imagine that allowing the user to configure an arbitrary word would also take.

          I believe the way it works is that it looks for a couple phonemes and if those phonemes match it wakes up, makes sure it is a match and starts processing. If they can change it between 3 or 4 phoneme groups, it would seem like they could fairly easily allow you to choose which phonemes you want it to match. My guess is they don't do this for 2 reasons. The first is that people would be stupid and try to pick something like 'bob' or 'anne' without realizing that it is not complex enough for safe triggers. The second which relates to the first as well is marketing. It is good marketing to have someone constantly saying 'amazon' or 'alexa' over and over. 'Computer' is cute but it's also likely an attempt to corral that keyword the same way microsoft took the word windows.

          Even with the ridiculous trademark/copyright landscape we have currently in the USA, there is no way that any company could get away with co-opting "computer" as a trademarkable or otherwise protected word.

  • by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:02PM (#53732057) Homepage

    Help Computer.
    Stop all the downloading.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Somebody needs a body massage.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Pork Chop Sandwiches!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:03PM (#53732061)

    When I was a kid, friends of my family who travelled to the Soviet Union during the cold war told me stories of visiting "refuseniks" (ie, Jewish families who were not permitted to get out of the country). I remember distinctly the story of how they used to write on those kids toys-- a writing pad with some kind of black wax on it and an opaque plastic sheet that would flip over the wax. You'd write a message on the plastic and it would stick to the plastic so you could read it, then you'd lift the plastic, the writing would "go away"...

    This I was told was how families would talk in the 1970s because of microphones planted in their apartment, invading their privacy, etc. (Never mind the opsec of a wax impression of everything you wrote isn't that great...)

    The point is, I'm blown away by the willingness to plop an omnidirectional microphone in the middle of your house. Even if you think you have "nothing to hide"-- maybe your guests do? Maybe you'll say something incredibly embarrassing or revealing or compromising your financial status... never reveal your passwords over the phone? Safe words? Sexual practices? Fetishes? Non-traditional relationships? Gossip? Family secrets? Controversial political views? Drug habits? Health issues? No secrets? Really?

    I dunno-- every technology has its pluses and minuses which you gotta balance... yeah cell phones and your laptop have mics and cameras too... But given the fact that fucking Facebook quizzes [nytimes.com] are being used against you, is it really such a good idea to have an always-on pair of ears specifically designed to be listening?

    (Also, don't leave your windows open, your computer speaker on, or your radios on, because I've got a software defined radio. And if you happen to have a text-to-voice browser going, "HELLO COMPUTER PLAY CLASSICAL MUSIC."

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      The point is, I'm blown away by the willingness to plop an omnidirectional microphone in the middle of your house.

      Get a clue. Your computer and your phone also have microphones, and transmit WAY more traffic that could hide spying.

      Amazon Echo does not have enough on board computing to do voice recognition of anything except the trigger word, it has minimal memory for buffering, and it transmits a very small amount of data when, and only when, the trigger word is used.

      If you worry about the Echo, and you don't worry about your cellphone or laptop, then you're an idiot.

      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

        What Bill said.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:17PM (#53732287)

        Get a clue [kym-cdn.com] Your computer and your phone also have microphones, and transmit WAY more traffic that could hide spying.

        Damn. I'm such an idiot. I wish I had said something like: "yeah cell phones and your laptop have mics and cameras too.." Thanks for making that really insightful observation that I never would have considered. Though when I last checked, my laptop doesn't have a 7-microphone omnidirectional array either and isn't designed and positioned for maximum surveillance of my residence.... And yeah... that bit you said about "transmitting WAY more traffic that could hide spying" is completely logical and makes total sense. The echo, which streams music, podcasts, and basically everything else a computer does... it's totally different and you could never "hide spying" in there.

        As for your *extremely* sophisticated technical analysis, let's begin with...

        Amazon Echo does not have enough on board computing to do voice recognition of anything except the trigger word,

        Right-- understanding the trigger word uses way fewer resources than all the other words.. that are processed.... by the hardware. That makes sense. But no matter-- the DM3725 features an ARM A8 core... definitely too shitty to do anything.... aside from power OMAP3 devices.. and no one could ever use those to record audio. Oh wait, damn [youtube.com]. Of course, if I were actually concerned about the technical limitations of a specific Echo model... well, you still don't have a point. But I was speaking more to concerns about the general idea of putting an always-on microphone in your house. Not that you seem capable of understanding the difference.

        I really want to address the rest of what you said, but when re-reading it, it's just so dumb I can't. As your argument essentially boils down to "Echos are for inarticulate, naive idiots" well, I guess that's as close as you'll get to a point. But, getting back to my original concerns, I'm not sure we're in disagreement then.

        • by phorm ( 591458 )

          While I do have a mobile phone on me at most times, I also have said phone in a holster case which is blocking the microphone ports when the device isn't out. I suppose it might still be able to pick up a bit, but given the size of the pinhole mic and the fidelity of voice when I'm recording deliberately, I doubt it'll get much useful.

      • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:39PM (#53732383)

        The point is, I'm blown away by the willingness to plop an omnidirectional microphone in the middle of your house.

        Get a clue. Your computer and your phone also have microphones, and transmit WAY more traffic that could hide spying.

        I'm blown away by the dismissive response and display of technical ignorance.

        Amazon Echo does not have enough on board computing to do voice recognition

        It has 250MB of RAM, 4GB of flash and DM3725 arm processor. My blackberry 9000 did local voice recognition with half the RAM a quarter of the onboard flash and slower less capable processor. The original version of dragon recognized 25k words in less than 30MB of ram.

        4GB of flash is enough to store a bit less than two months of continuous non-silence detected cell phone quality audio. With silence detection in most settings and a more complex/aggressive codec you could easily push a year.

        it has minimal memory for buffering, and it transmits a very small amount of data when, and only when, the trigger word is used.

        If you worry about the Echo, and you don't worry about your cellphone or laptop, then you're an idiot.

        Every time someone raises a concern about x you will always find someone jumping on the...but what about y and z bandwagon. WTF do cellphones and laptops have to do with the topic at hand? Is it really necessary for someone raising a concern about x have to enumerate a list of everything else that can possibly raise similar concerns without being called an idiot?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Every time someone raises a concern about x you will always find someone jumping on the...but what about y and z bandwagon. WTF do cellphones and laptops have to do with the topic at hand?

          Hardly anybody has an Echo.

          Everybody has a laptop and cellphone. And the cellphone gets carried with them everywhere.

          Duh.

        • 4GB of flash is enough to store a bit less than two months of continuous non-silence detected cell phone quality audio. With silence detection in most settings and a more complex/aggressive codec you could easily push a year.

          Well, if you used this [slashdot.org] newer codec for audio storage, you would use a bit under 700MB for a full year's worth of audio (no silence detection). Theoretically that would net you between 5-6 years, and if you had silence detection it might be more like a decade or more...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The point is, I'm blown away by the willingness to plop an omnidirectional microphone in the middle of your house.

        Get a clue. Your computer and your phone also have microphones, and transmit WAY more traffic that could hide spying.

        The fact that the original poster was underplaying the danger by failing to mention a bunch of additional microphones scattered around our homes already does not negate his argument, it strengthens it. It's like he pointed out a dangerous snake in the corner and you dismissed the danger by saying the grizzly in the middle of the room will probably attack first.

        Besides which the echo has a significant amount of computing power and could be easily (re)purposed to stream significant amounts of data.

      • by cusco ( 717999 )

        Why the hell is this comment modded to a -1? It's actually correct, while the parent piece of uninformed dreck is modded 3. This is why I don't stop into SlashDot as much as I used to.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      Me: Alexa, is my data safe?
      Alexa: Yes.

      See, you don't have to worry.

  • And was just thinking about why I can't say Computer to my phone. :)
  • Blasted holodeck wont shut down.
  • by Proudrooster ( 580120 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:27PM (#53732135) Homepage

    How you hack Alex to have the voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry? [youtu.be]

    Computer, set self-destruct, authorization code Picard alpha 0-0-0-1-0.

    Boom!

  • by Ambient Sheep ( 458624 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:37PM (#53732169)

    But does it reply "Wor-king" in a strange metallic voice, and then make teletype noises?

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      I don't think those were teletype noises, but rather mechanical relays. If I remember correctly, the audio staff recorded sounds from different actual systems, and the newer ones didn't make enough interesting noises to use on the show, so they mixed in sounds from an older mechanical relay system, perhaps used for telephone signal switching.

  • Open the pod bay doors.

    Then my garage opens...or not.

  • It probably recognizes the new name better if you say it in a Scottish accent.

  • will it answer back in Majel Barrett's voice
    • by ewhac ( 5844 )

      Actual conversation:

      "Alexa, can you change your voice?"

      "Sorry, you're stuck with me."

  • I hate mentioning brands in general, so this gets me one step closer to such a solution. Probably will still never use this though.

    It has to be OSS with Kodi-style scraping plugins for extending functionality

  • by transami ( 202700 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @11:30PM (#53732805) Homepage

    I had an interesting conversation about this the other day. It occurred to us that it would be helpful if we had a new bit of grammar in our language such that names have two forms, one for talking to someone and one for talking about them.

    We did not come up with a specific solution, but one simple way might be just to leave off the last sound. So, for example, say "Alex" instead of "Alexa". Another possibility might be a variation on Asimov naming, i.e. "R. Alexia" -- if Amazon would program in that distinction.

  • Maybe it should be limited to Computer! shouted in a Scottish accent.

  • How long does it take to get the pitch right?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • Me: "WTF is wrong with this stupid computer?! FOAD!!! FOAD!!!"
    Echo: "I beg your pardon?!"
    Me: "Oh, sorry honey not you. I was talking to my W10 laptop".

  • Let the user program in his/her own wake up word.

    Seems to me that would technologically feasible.

  • I expect a sudden surge in sales to Trekkies. I know I'm suddenly more interested now.

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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