Influence on Politics (AD)

The backbone of all voice assistants is a wealth of large amounts of data which are nowadays compiled under the term of Big Data. In 2010 Siri was bought by Apple from a start-up in Silicon Valley and kept on feeding the voice assistant with more of its data. A lesser known fact is that Siri was actually commence as a project by the US government and later became made available to the public through privatization. Despite the political and legal questions surrounding the use and collection of big data, voice assistants raised another issue that caused political turmoil.

A recent example is a murder case in Arkansas, where Amazon’s digital voice assistant Alexa became subject to the police investigation. The local court demanded Amazon to release Alexa’s voice protocol in order to solve the case. However, Amazon declined handing out the recordings of Alexa because ‘the users right to browse and purchase expressive materials anonymously, without fear of government discovery”. Besides creating interest for individual and particular crime cases, Amazon Echo, Siri and their digital friends from the voice assistants cohort can aid in more widespread legal prosecution.

Before thinking about different scenarios in which the political sphere might develop in the future with regard to voice assistants, one should clarify a few assumptions. A first assumption would be the consumers’ receptiveness for the purchase and use of voice assistants. For example, in order to create political interest and the need for new legislation governing the data use collected by voice assistants, it is crucial that Alexa, Siri and co are used by a large number of people in the population. In case these voice assistants do achieve a break through in user numbers it is unlikely that politician will perceive a need to establish new laws.

Another assumption could be the collaboration of corporations that provide voice assistants such as Apple and Amazon with the government. Ultimately every company is obliged to cooperate but still companies of such size have strong power with regard to lobbying efforts and other NGOs as well as public movements might object a law that enables the government to access the private audio data of consumer households.

One scenario can be determined based on the previous assumptions. The public widely accepts the use of voice assistants and these assistants are in use in households and in mobile devices. Another part of the scenario is that the government identifies the need to create legislation that allows state authorities to access the audio recordings stemming from voice assistants. In this sense, the government would receive deep insights into the life of individuals if they request the release of audio data from Amazon or Apple. However, in this scenario the key would be to establish a line that defines the situation when the government can require audio data and the extent to which they receive these data. In case such a line is not defined the government could fully access all information and completely intrude its citizens’ private life without sound reasoning.

The other scenario is concerned about the lacking access of digital assistants’ data by the government. In this sense, the government would not receive any kind of information from digital assistants and as a result the only legislation concerning these assistants would be the perseverance of the non-disclosure rights of users.

However, digital assistants do not only apply to phones and devices but also to robotics. For example the same voice recognition and response mechanisms are used in robots. Assuming that service robots will be used in households in the future, then how will these robots be treated?. They hear every conversation between private individuals and record that data. Will they become eligible witnesses in court cases or will they only be regarded as a machine?

In the near future the evolution of robotics and voice assistants will surely create a new stream of digital law that will constantly evolve and be refined within the next years.