Following major tech companies’ patent applications reveals a fascinating world of innovation and futuristic technology being applied to all kinds of potential new products and services.

Companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google have interesting patent application portfolios packed with impressive new ways to utilise the advances of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).

Amazon and AI

Online retail behemoth Amazon filed a patent application for a new AI system that could, in theory, operate in its smart speakers to track conversations. Using customer voice data, the AI could personalise adverts and target specific services towards the user, according to the patent filed by the company.

The application was filed in June 2017 and includes details about tech that would allow the company to effectively ‘listen in’ on anything people are chatting about in its vicinity.

Currently, Amazon’s smart speakers (known as ‘Alexa’) are permanently in listening mode. They are activated when someone says something specific, such as “Hello Alexa”, but don’t record anyone’s conversations as a matter of course. They can record conversations but must be activated to do so after a specific ‘wake phrase’ is used.

Voice sniffer technology

In the not too distant future, this could all change. The speakers and other AI systems would instead be fitted with ‘voice sniffer algorithms’, that would kick into working mode as they recognise words spoken by people that suggest marketable interests.

According to the patent application: “One or more sniffer algorithms or processes can attempt to identify trigger words in the voice content, which can indicate a level of interest of the user.

“For each identified potential trigger word, the device can capture adjacent audio that can be analysed, on the device or remotely, to attempt to determine one or more keywords associated with that trigger word.”

Key words used by AI

For instance, if people are chatting about the latest football game and mention certain key words, the speaker would utilise this information to offer tailored ads and other service suggestions.

This sort of technology tends to have its detractors due to its intrusive nature, but others may feel it’s useful as they can obtain fast product recommendations and offers.

Amazon says that: “Topics of potential interest to a user, useful for purposes such as targeted advertising and product recommendations, can be extracted from voice content produced by a user. A computing device can capture voice content, such as when a user speaks into or near the device.”

The information is sent to third party suppliers which in turn tailor content specifically for the customer.

Will they or won’t they?

Despite this patent application, Amazon has said on many occasions that it won’t use customer voice data to tailor ads. They argue that this is one of many patent applications and that “… Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services.”

The application certainly shows that they’re working out how to make it happen should their plans alter.

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