Why Alexa Won’t Light Up During Amazon’s Super Bowl Ad

Bloomberg: Amazon.com is advertising its Alexa-powered speakers in the big game on Sunday. It’s an amusing 90 seconds that features celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson, Anthony Hopkins, Cardi B and the world’s wealthiest man, Jeff Bezos himself. The word “Alexa” is uttered 10 times during the Super Bowl spot, but thankfully, the Amazon Echo in your living room isn’t going to perk up and try to respond. Bezos and company have evidently been thinking about this problem for a long time, before the Echo was even introduced. A September 2014 Amazon patent titled “Audible command filtering” describes techniques to prevent Alexa from waking up “as part of a broadcast watched by a large population (such as during a popular sporting event),” annoying customers and overloading Amazon’s servers with millions of simultaneous requests. The patent broadly describes two techniques. The first calls for transmitting a snippet of a commercial to Echo devices before it airs. Then the Echo can compare live commands to the acoustic fingerprint of the snippet to determine whether the commands are authentic. The second tactic describes how a commercial itself could transmit an inaudible acoustic signal to tell Alexa to ignore its wake word.

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