When will Alexa know everything? An interview with Amazon’s oldest employee

Published on April 7, 2018

Amazon has been working on its voice-enabled digital virtual assistant Alexa for years now. Alexa powers most of the products manufactured by Amazon. The list includes Amazon’s Fire TV, Echo smart-home speakers, and other Amazon devices that can answer all our questions. What we do know is that Alexa listens to everything. However, what we don’t know is whether she stores all the information heard by her or not. In an interview with Slate Magazine, Vice President of Alexa Engine Software at Amazon, Al Lindsay shared exclusive details about Alexa.

Amazon, Alexa

As far, Al Lindsay, she has been working with Amazon since 2004. The Amazon official was the primary person to head the Alexa team since 2011. In other words, she is the primary person to be in charge of building Amazon’s version of the all-knowing Star Trek computer. “In our interview, we discussed how Alexa understands our commands, what he makes of users’ growing concerns over privacy and why Alexa was laughing so creepily for some users recently,” the Slate Magazine report states.

What happens when one asks Amazon Echo, ‘Alexa, what’s the weather today?’

To which, Al Lindsay replies by saying that the first thing to take place is that the local software running on the device detects the word ‘Alexa.’ The software is specifically designed with the primary objective to identify the word, ‘Alexa.’ After it hears and detects the main word, it immediately starts listening to the command that follows. At the same time, it opens a connection to the cloud and streams the rest of the request to Alexa. This step is among the initial steps taken by Amazon Alexa. “That’s the first stage, which is understanding, ‘Hey, you’re talking to me. I need to do something with this, get it over to the cloud so that Alexa can process it,’” Lindsay says.

What about the question of whether Alexa is ‘always listening?’

To which, Lindsay replied by saying that the software runs locally on one device. It is listening locally for anyone who uses the word, ‘Alexa.’ There is no limited connectivity or streaming activity that is taking place. The sound is passing through the microphones and reaching the software. The engine is simply looking for a specific kind of pattern that the owner usually follows. “Do I see the pattern, Alexa? If not, it’s just passing through. It’s when we detect the phrase, Alexa, locally, that we then wake up and say, ‘Hey, this was meant for me. Now I need to take further action and start to listen and stream to the cloud,’” Lindsay notes.

What about this fear that, over time, this device that you have in your living room, which is listening to you and analyzing what you say?

Lindsay Al announced that privacy is taking seriously at Amazon. According to her, it is something that they have thought deeply about right from the very beginning. The whole product, as well as the entire Alexa experience, is designed explicitly around being careful around taking care of privacy and customers’ concerns about that matter. A lot of the decisions that are making to this date will continue to center on being transparent about what has to be done.  This set includes right from the time Alexa hears the wake word to the blue ring lighting up; everything is carried out in the simplest of the manner. She further asserts that the blue ring exists only to assure users that, “Hey, I think I heard my name. I’ve just opened a connection to the cloud so that I can try and follow-up on what I heard after and, hopefully, help you.”

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