Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Alexa: Will We Divorce?
As technology has evolved and become further integrated into our private lives, so too has the amount of personal data we’ve made available to Big Tech, which has inevitably resulted in researchers getting more and more creative about studying our sex lives. A 2018 report from eHarmony in conjunction with the Imperial College Business School in London, for instance, found that smart home assistants that use voice recognition technology, such as Google Home and Alexa, could one day be used to predict breakups or even provide relationship counseling by listening to our conversations.
As study co-author Aparna K. Sasidharan recently explained, this insight was based largely on 2017 research that used speech recognition technology to analyze 134 couples’ conversations during marital therapy over the course of two years. The researchers analyzed data such as changes in pitch or how often someone would switch from “you” to “I” or “me,” and they developed an algorithm that was able to predict whether a couple would break up with 79 percent accuracy.
To be clear, eHarmony’s report does not state that companies like Google and Amazon are actually doing this, nor is there any substantial evidence that smart home assistants are listening to our conversations without consent. That said, Amazon recently filed a patentsuggesting it may at least have interest in doing this. (In a statement sent to Vox, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We take privacy seriously and have built multiple layers of privacy into our devices. Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology. Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services.”)
Sasidharan’s point is more that companies like Amazon and Google could do this if they wanted to. “We have a model that can predict the fate of a relationship fairly accurately, but no one has operationalized it or incorporated it into a device or a dating app and said, ‘Okay, use this,’” she says. “But if people are accepting of it, it can be done very soon.”
Read more here.