Amazon’s latest patent could send your Amazon Echo to medical school. If the technology described in the October patent becomes a reality, your Echo or Echo Dot would be capable of detecting changes in your voice and determining if you are sick. And then, because Amazon isn’t just doing this so Alexa can tell you, “Feel better, drink some tea,” your Echo would also be capable of selling you products — like cough drops — you might want if you are sick.
A graphic in the patent documents shows a woman with a cold telling Alexa that she’s hungry. In the graphic, the woman’s “Alexa, I’m hungry” is punctuated by coughing and sneezing. So Alexa responds with a recipe for chicken soup. The woman declines the recipe and the device says it will find something else, and, “By the way, would you like to order cough drops with one-hour delivery?”
Perhaps more disconcerting than the potential ability of Alexa to detect your sniffles, the patent documents indicate that it would be able to detect other conditions, as well, like if you’re tired or bored or upset. Or if you’re crying. As well as where you are talking to it from. As well as your gender and whether you are old or young. In short, all things Amazon could use for refining the targeting of its ads — both via your Echo and online, since you use the same account — and trying to sell you stuff.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an Echo Dot evangelist. I love my stupid little DJ/timer/alarm clock/Google robot. I love it so much it has been known to drive the people closest to me batty. (See here: A conversation with several of my exes about why they hated my Echo Dot affinity so much.) But there’s something about Amazon knowing the state of my health that’s a step too far, even for me. (Particularly given that personal data seems increasingly less and less secure — hello, Facebook — online.) I’d prefer to suffer through my cold without Jeff Bezos knowing about it. Or at the very least, I’d prefer to tell him the old fashioned way. By manually ordering some cough drops.