I have a voice-activated keychain. Love its utility- until one weekend when I was coughing and it wouldn’t stop. I pressed it deep between the mattress and the box spring. Much to my consternation, this deliberate hiding did not work.
That experience flashed back after I watched an hilarious ad from Amazon for super bowl Sunday. [A link closer to the end.]
In that ad, Alexa is called about 10 times. And I wondered, will it awake the Alexa in many homes?
Statistically, that would be a false positive. In a real-life visual, it would be like a doctor reading a person’s hand and saying, “you are pregnant.” The fun starts when you zoom in to find that the doctor is holding a man’s hand.
How does Amazon avoid this hilarious outcome?
The words Amazon’s machine learning data scientist Shiv Vitaladevuni blurted out — real-time acoustic fingerprinting.
I researched for a plain English equivalent.
You see, the Alexa in the ad would send out extra sounds that extra-ordained creatures like bats could hear. That combination — human like voices and bat like sounds will be the clue for Alexa at home to not wake-up. Deliberate usage of a range of waves beyond the voice spectrum is an ingenious solution. Looks like Amazon has patented it under audible command filtering.
An enterprising reddit user independently tested it out and confirmed that it is indeed the case.
That is cool. However, Amazon controls the voice waves in its own ad.
What would happen if Jay Leno’s late night successor, Jimmy Fallon calls out Alexa during his nightly monologue?
Amazon’s team has a solution. They have another pattern recognition algorithm — same voice, same time, multiple requests — they know it is a false positive and suppress the awaking giant of mass requests.
Is it perfect? Manoj Sindhwani, director for Speech Recognition at Amazon says it mutes out 80% to 90% of the devices.
The side benefit — Amazon has a way to know how many users with Alexa are watching Jimmy Fallon or Saturday Night Live! What a golden TV demographic data. All the Saturday Night Live Team or Jimmy and his ilk have to do is include the name — Alexa.
Anyway, in all this, my takeaway on Alexa vs.my voice-activated keychain — for the most useful things that you use daily, don’t go cheap.
The richest man in the world didn’t.
He had the best name brands working on his ad for primetime TV. Celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B, Rebel Wilson and Anthony Hopkins chipping in as Alexa substitutes.
And it is hilarious. What do you say, Alexa? I am glad you got a cold even if it was for one and a half minutes.
One thing Jeff Bezos cannot do is act. Why should he? Seems like being himself turns things to gold.
What is your favorite part in the ad?
I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships.
P.S. How does Amazon team ensure that Alexa awakens when you call it out with your accent and in your voice? A geeky paper for you to savor — written by Sankaran Panchapagesan, Ming Sun, Aparna Khare, Spyros Matsoukas Arindam Mandal, Bjo ̈rn Hoffmeister and Shiv Vitaladevuni