Renting with voice commands built-in

One: Meet Alexa, your letting agent

Hi, you’re reading Wakeword, a newsletter all about the angular bit where the news, voice-controlled devices and artificial intelligence collide.

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How would you feel about moving into a new place that already has a smart speaker(s) in the ceiling, the wall, the door or, maybe the floor? Probably not the floor. The Wall Street Journal’s just published a fascinating piece describing how Amazon wants to beat you into your next flat by putting Alexa in there first ($).

…each apartment gets a network of smart-home devices and a hub, the wireless radio that helps smart devices in the home to connect to the internet. Tenants either receive one of Amazon’s Echo speakers or bring their own, and can use it to control the apartment’s thermostat and locks, as well as other Alexa-compatible smart-home devices the tenants add on, which now range from light bulbs to microwave ovens.

Let’s get this out of the way in the first issue. Voice controls are still a bit icky what with that pesky microphone.

I originally wrote a whole bit about the Amazon Echo I’ve got in my bedroom right now (due to moving out of a house into a flat for the new job) but to be honest it got into the weeds a little bit. So I’ve subbed it down a lot.

I’m a little uneasy about having a bedroom speaker, but I’ve also found that I’m lazy and/or complacent enough to accept it. I can also handwave it away somewhat because I’m mostly using it to keep on top of our smart speaker bulletins using it when I’m not at work.

I think you’d find a similar uneasy/handwavey feeling in some of the tenants who would end up those apartments. They’ve found a new home that they love, what’s so bad about having the smart home built in? Well, just look at the recent case in the US when a landlord was told not to force people to use smart locks to enter communal areas.

Without being careful, smart home technology can become a stark sign of rented homes no longer meant for a tenant’s ‘quiet enjoyment’ but a temporary space where we’re surveilled on behalf of companies or landlords:

Eventually, Alexa-fied apartments with smart locks and pre-installed Echo devices might even replace rental agents. Initial data from trials of such systems indicates that people are twice as likely to rent an apartment when no human is present to try and sell them on it…

I get to unplug that speaker in my bedroom if I want, even if I probably won’t.


🚸 One in three children are listening on a smart speaker every day according to radio industry research body RAJAR. Still, you should probably make whatever you’re doing easily accessible on a smartphone too, because you’ll struggle to find a kid who isn’t using one of those as they get older:


📣 The team that wrote the CBeebies skill on Alexa has published a guide to designing for voice interaction. The gist: make it simple and test it often.

🗣 Amazon’s got a new preview on the way of something called Alexa Conversations. It says it’ll make the process of writing skills that can talk to people much easier by using artificial intelligence.

🖥 So this is spooky. A dev claims to have written an AI program that can match up porn actresses to their real-life social media profiles using face recognition (via The Interface). It sounds sketchy as hell that it’s actually been done, but it’s theoretically very possible. Let’s not though please because it’s a horrible thing to do to people? Thanks.

One more thing

WUT? That’s a stand, you know, not a computer.

That’s all for this week.

Let me know what you think.