September 29, 2021
Internet giant Amazon has unveiled a bunch of new products apparently designed to ensure there’s seldom a moment when you’re not interacting with the company.
Not content with becoming the western world’s default retailer as well as its biggest internet platform, Amazon seems determined to dominate your domestic gadgetry. The most symbolic of its product announcements is the Astro – a domestic robot with a screen for a face – which seems to be designed to make the family dog obsolete.
“One of the things I love about working at Amazon is inventing the future,” wrote Charlie Tritschler, VP of Products at Amazon, without a hint of irony. “Astro is a new and different kind of robot, one that’s designed to help customers with a range of tasks like home monitoring and keeping in touch with family. It brings together new advancements in artificial intelligence, computer vision, sensor technology, and voice and edge computing in a package that’s designed to be helpful and convenient.”
Among the helpful and convenient things we’re told it can do are: guard your house while you’re away; keep an eye on your family; and follow you around listening for Alexa commands. It’s not clear whether “fetch my slippers” is one of them but if not it’s surely just a matter of time. Apparently it also tries to anticipate your needs and even has a quirky ‘personality’.
What’s not to like, right? Well, Vice got hold of some leaked internal development documents and concluded from them that Astro’s person recognition system is deeply flawed. It also spoke to some unnamed people who worked on its development and they concur, as well as questioning its judgment when it comes to things like stairs and its overall build quality. It’s also not cheap
Another recipient of this new ‘visual ID’ technology is the Echo Show 15, a 15.6-inch tablet crammed full of Amazon goodies. “Echo Show 15 brings everything that makes your household tick into one place,” said Tom Taylor, SVP of Amazon Alexa. “With a redesigned home screen and Alexa widgets, you can customize Echo Show 15 to see your shared family calendar, manage to-do lists and reminders, find meal inspiration, and keep track of your incoming packages. Plus, Echo Show 15 can adapt to your home environment with full-screen photos or art, so it’s always there when you need it, but fades beautifully into the background when you don’t.”
‘Always there’ is a recurring theme of Amazon’s gadget strategy, which begs the question of how desirable a ubiquitous Amazon is. Even stairs needn’t be an impediment, with a spy drone also on the cards, and kids aren’t spared from Amazon’s insatiable ambition following the launch of the Amazon Glow interactive screen plus projector.
Amazon seems to agree with Facebook that mounting concerns about the power, influence and ubiquity of big tech is just a fleeting hysteria that will soon blow over. They’re both determined to keep trying to intrude further into our daily lives but it’s down to individual consumers to decide how much of their personal lives they want to surrender to big tech in exchange for a bit more convenience and entertainment.
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