Amazon Patents Alexa Tech To Tell If You’re Sick, Depressed And Sell You Meds

from ars technica

Amazon has patented technology that could let Alexa analyze your voice to determine whether you are sick or depressed and sell you products based on your physical or emotional condition.

The patent, titled “Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users,” was issued on Tuesday this week; Amazon filed the patent application in March 2017.

The patent describes a voice assistant that can detect “abnormal” physical or emotional conditions. “For example, physical conditions such as sore throats and coughs may be determined based at least in part on a voice input from the user, and emotional conditions such as an excited emotional state or a sad emotional state may be determined based at least in part on voice input from a user,” the patent says. “A cough or sniffle, or crying, may indicate that the user has a specific physical or emotional abnormality.”

It’s not clear what ads would be sent based on a user’s emotional state, but someone who is sick might be asked if they want to buy cold medicine.

“A current physical and/or emotional condition of the user may facilitate the ability to provide highly targeted audio content, such as audio advertisements or promotions, to the user,” the patent said.

If the Amazon voice assistant determines that you have a sore threat, the system would “communicate with the audio content server(s)” to select the appropriate ad. “For example, certain content, such as content related to cough drops or flu medicine, may be targeted towards users who have sore throats,” the patent says.

Alexa might then ask, “would you like to order cough drops with 1 hour delivery?” After the order is made, the voice assistant “may append a message to the audible confirmation, such as well wishes, or ‘feel better!'”

More here.

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64 Responses to Amazon Patents Alexa Tech To Tell If You’re Sick, Depressed And Sell You Meds

  1. Jessica Forsthoffer November 9, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

    Every new development in technology is leading us towards the elimination of many services we typically utilize in person. Improving Amazon Alexa to potentially be able to identify and diagnose “abnormal physical or emotional conditions”, leads me to question why we would need this feature and how trustworthy it really is. There are many services we utilize daily that should continue to be provided by a human, healthcare being one of them. Healthcare is a very personal sector of our lives and should only be handled by professionals who have been trained and gone through school to treat patients, so they can offer a personalized experience and help patients with very specific needs. Giving Amazon Alexa the ability to “diagnose” even the slightest of sicknesses is questionable because it is impossible to know how accurate her diagnoses will be. I think there will be benefits to having this feature such as the convenience of having necessary medications or items such as cough drops ordered by simply asking Alexa, or at least bringing to the users’ attention that they might be getting sick. What is concerning about this feature is the fact that it would mean that the device is constantly listening to you and searching to find if your voice, inflection, etc. is different than normal so it can diagnose any symptoms. This feature is just odd to begin with because I can’t imagine Alexa out of nowhere telling the user that they may have a cold or that they sound sad. Talking to a small robotic device is not very consoling and having it say that is unconventional and I would prefer to be cheered up by an actual human and not a device. Also, what if a user has a naturally monotone or soft voice, will it automatically diagnose them because of that? Using this feature or not, privacy concerns with Amazon Alexa have always existed and may not go away, as the devices main feature of always listening is necessary for it to work. This is concerning because it would have to listen to your voice even closer to use this feature as it uses a “voice processing algorithm” to determine if you’re sick or sad. Ultimately, I believe Amazon has taken this a little too far, as we cannot replace doctors to diagnose us, or even something as simple our parents asking if we want cough drops.

  2. Danielle Blanco November 9, 2018 at 6:06 pm #

    I understand that this is not passed yet by Amazon but this is a bad idea. If I knew that Alexa had these settings, I would not want to buy it for many reasons, both for privacy and operational. First, I do not think a device that looks up information should be given to the right to decide whether or not I am sick. Also, I would feel uncomfortable for Alexa to use that information to play ads that are related to illness such as medicine advertisements. I do not think this device can clearly diagnose that I am sick just based on my voice. Another part of the patent for this system for Alexa is to determine whether someone is depressed. Being around someone who was depressed, many know how to hide it. At times, they do not even know if they themselves are depressed. People who are depressed know how to put on a fake smile and go through their day without people knowing they are depressed. If people are aware of this function and do not want to seek help, they can find a way around Alexa knowing their true emotional state. They just have to sound happy when talking to Alexa and their system will not sense that person being depressed. This device should not have the right to get involved in a person’s emotional state. It could make it worse.
    Also, they are doing this based on a person’s voice which I am not sure how this will be accurate. The measure the baseline of your voice and can tell your different emotions when there is a change in the tone or pitch. However, there has been times where I have had a horrible day and I know I sound upset but it does not necessarily mean I am depressed. I would question they way Alexa determines what a depressed voice is. This proposal will push humans to become more reliable on technology. Here is an example. I may be feeling ill and refuse to go to the doctor and just listen to when Alexa mentions be being ill. Or what if I am depressed and Alexa constantly reminds me through advertisements or her messages that things are not going well in my life. I believe Alexa should remain as is and should not get involved in the user’s personal life.

  3. Michael Martini November 30, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    I personally believe that Amazon is taking their Alexa much too far. This tiny little device definitely comes in handy for what we need and allows us to have easier lives, but when it comes to health, we should stick to doctors. Although it seems like a good idea to incorporate health into Alexa, the accuracy of diagnosing you is not always correct. Perhaps there is a fault in the device and it encourages us to buy medications that we don’t need, then this can cause an even bigger issue on our health. I honestly do not think that we know exactly how human beings work yet, especially all of us a a whole. We are all different and have our own traits to us, and the Amazon Alexa cannot speak for all of us as a group. The idea seems as though it is way too in-depth and it should not be incorporated in the product at all. There is an extent to where technology can help us in our every day lives, but when it comes too far it can cause significant issues.

  4. Tyler Peteraf November 30, 2018 at 8:17 pm #

    I think that as technology continues to advance over the years we have to be careful as to what we deem appropriate or not. Of course we would consistently like to make life easier for ourselves, and I understand that, but it is also important to draw a line for what should be allowed. This new Idea by Amazon that allows Alexa tech to be able determine your emotions or if your sick through analyzing your voice seems a little out there. In reality, I don’t think that it’s really a necessity or even something that most costumers would want to have. In general, it feels like more of an invasion of privacy than anything. Nowadays your are seeing more and more companies have a smart device that can be used around your house. When looking at it from a broad scope, it’s important that these companies that make these products abide by a certain standard as to not invade the privacy of someone’s home. In this particular example, it just doesn’t seem like something that is vitally important to be a part of the product. If these companies are able to implement certain things that can truly improve quality of life, I think that should definitely be looked into. Technology is becoming something that is able to engulf almost every spectrum of society, and in many ways that can be a good thing, but it is important to also recognize the downside of that. As long as we don’t allow for technology to cross a line that take away privacy, the companies are fine in what they do. It is just vitally important to be aware of the line not to cross.

  5. Shaunak Rajurkar December 6, 2018 at 2:02 am #

    It is truly no surprise that Amazon is turning themselves into a brand name for healthcare. In 2017, Amazon announced a partnership with J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to reform employee healthcare under the direction of Harvard Oncologist Atul Gawande. His expertise in both technical aspects of the medical practice as well as his practical industry knowledge makes him easily the most qualified person for the job. Amazon’s brand label of convenience combined with their scope, scale, and platform can allow them to essentially consume entire industries, and healthcare is no exception. With a $3 billion investment in AI for Alexa’s platform, Amazon far exceeds many of its smaller competitors. Alexa will soon have the ability to work as a fully functioning personal assistant in the medical field, and will potentially be allowed to sell prescription drugs, as mentioned in the article. Although this is incredibly convenient, the implications of high level data mining are dangerous.

    Amazon is a powerhouse in multiple industries, but it is the far out leader in global e-commerce and cloud computing services, in both business to business revenue as well as for individuals. The reason Amazon has quickly become such a target for advertisers is simple: Amazon is already a retailer, and thus there is little need for a middleman like Facebook or Google in the advertising space to sell physical products. According to the article, this going to allow Amazon’s ad revenue to grow from 2.5 billion to nearly 20 billion by 2020. Amazon already has the insight on consumers’ spending and shopping habits through their analysis of giant data mines.

    As a parent company, Amazon has branches and subsidiaries in nearly every industry aside from automotives and (arguably) social media. Amazon is a pioneer of Software as a Service (SaaS) through its multiple online subscription products, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Elastic Cloud 2. It now has a presence in groceries and fresh food delivery through its acquisition of Whole Foods. With a diversified line of Kindles, Amazon dominates the e-reader space and presents the Kindle as something more resemblant of a tablet. It now threatens to disrupt both the healthcare and health insurance industries as suggested by recent patents that allow Amazon to act as an online pharmacy. Additionally, investors speculate that over the next two years, Amazon could acquire both Lyft and Snapchat. This company is the third largest in the world, and is best described with one word: omnipresent. If Amazon continues to dominate every industry it enters, this omnipresence will become omnipotence.

    Congress needs to quickly draft legislation to regulate Amazon before it becomes a hyper-monopoly. Just this morning, it was revealed that Amazon will be placing its Crystal City, Virginia, and Queens, New York. Politicians in each prospective state were offering Amazon astounding incentives – New Jersey, for example, offered Amazon a 7 billion dollar tax break if it were to have placed its new headquarters in Newark. By splitting the headquarters in two locations, Amazon was able to capitalize on two separate incentive packages, essentially doubling their benefit. After staying in the shadows of Facebook, Apple, and Google over the last decade, Amazon has been able to effectively hide from regulators.

    Amazon collects vast amounts of personal user data through its website as well as through third party ads on other websites. They have offered innumerable advertising products for their own sales. After multiple data breaches over the last few years, consumers must ask themselves whether or not it is worth sacrificing privacy for convenience; this proves even more true in the hands of a company that is well on its way to becoming a hyper-monopoly if left unregulated.

  6. Ria Bagga January 25, 2019 at 4:26 pm #

    I think it’s funny that Amazon thinks Alexa is capable of telling when a person is depressed and needs medication when psychologists can’t even prescribe medication for their clients. I understand where the idea is coming from, but there are just too many flaws to overlook. I mean, “A cough or sniffle, or crying, may indicate that the user has a specific physical or emotional abnormality.” Really? An abnormality? If crying indicates an abnormality Amazon is going to be harassing a lot of pregnant women for being depressed. I can only imagine how much worse that would make pregnancy for them too. Not to mention a sniffle doesn’t indicate sickness, when I come inside from the freezing weather I sniffle like I’m sick. I feel this feature would have a lot more harm than good and doesn’t suit the product at all. I have an Amazon Echo and I think the best features are verbally requesting songs, weather, time, and setting alarms. The verbal feature is great but I don’t feel like Alexa is spying on me to diagnose my depression. This feature would truly just worsen the product and make consumers uncomfortable with placing these in their households. Amazon needs to leave depression and medication to the professionals, physicians and psychiatrists/psychologists.

  7. Santiago Gomez January 25, 2019 at 8:12 pm #

    Since when did Alexa graduate from Harvard Medical School? Since when did Alexa have the capabilities of diagnosing certain sickness? Certainly, Alexa does not possess an MD and have the capabilities to confirm if a person is certainly sick. I do understand where Amazon can get an idea for that. It wants to create a more friendly, faster and much easier to a solution for people who are sick. Instead of creating an appointment and talking with your doctor. You can now speak to a speaker and it can diagnose it for you. It seems Amazon wants to replace every job and worker with AI. Advancement in technology is great, but it seems we are going too fast to keep up. The idea that Alexa can determine your emotions or if you are sick by the analysis of our voice is ridiculous. Technology is here to help, not to replace. Amazon may think this idea may help those who are sick. But sounds ridiculous when it says it can help through the analysis of our voices. Essentially, Amazon is replacing the roles of doctors, and this is where it crosses the line. No way on Earth does AI have the same capabilities of a doctor to help those who are sick. Especially when it comes down to medication. Surely, I will never want to be diagnosed by a speaker with a voice activated. Especially in the medical world where technology is improving and always will, assist doctors and their diagnoses. I want to see technology help, not replace. We must leave this to the professionals, who have studied many years to purposely do their job.

  8. Jack F Comfort January 25, 2019 at 8:38 pm #

    The idea that we are approaching technology that can detect the different moods in our voice. This notion just goes to show how exponentially fast technology is growing, every and every year we get closer to a fully automated world. This fully automated world is both a blessing and a curse. A fully automated world would eliminate many service jobs and could potentially be a determent to our society. The ability that it can tell if you’re depressed or sick might even just eliminate the need for doctors and psychologists. It might be crazy to think about but who’s stopping the people at Amazon from making a smart enough robot who could diagnosis illnesses.

    This technology could also be exploited by people. A lot of people abuse certain types of cold medicine, and not requiring them to show up to the store to buy it is an avenue for people to illegally obtain those items.

  9. Doran Abdi January 31, 2019 at 1:07 pm #

    In my eyes, this is a not a good move for Amazon. While it is a fantastic step forward for science and technology, I find that it will lead many users of Alexa to resent it. Already, there is a stigma around Alexa and other similar devices that many are afraid of the fact that it is “always listening”. For example, one of my good friends will always keep his Alexa unplugged in fear of the device constantly listening on his conversations. Even my own father will do the same as he has a similar fear. While it can be viewed by many as doing this as being juvenile and only being afraid of the advancement of technology (in which I would have to partly agree), this is a legitimate fear of many and a reason in which many will not buy this device. I find that if Amazon were to start using this new technology in Alexa, it will only validate the fear in which many already had. Many users will look at as an infringement of their privacy and will disregard the device all together. I feel as if Amazon should disclose this new information in a more widespread manner. That way every user of Alexa and Amazon’s other related products will be fully aware of the perks and abilities of its device. Regardless of how Amazon implements this new feature, I do find this to be a remarkable step in the advancement of technology. It amazes me everyday in how much technology has really evolving and how quickly it continues to grow. If you were to compare half of the technology that has been developed today to that of thirty yeas ago, it is astonishing to compare the differences. And now, we are looking at a device that will be able to assess the change in someone’s mood or health. I feel as if technology is allowing us as a society to become more and more comfortable. It is becoming more and more directed towards the users convivence and I am not sure if that will be a good thing or a bad thing in the future. As of right now, I can only appreciate the innovation and revolutions in which Amazon is applying and I only hope that they can implement it in a way that will allow the users to embrace its brilliance.

  10. Demetri Allen January 31, 2019 at 6:10 pm #

    As of right now, Amazon is taking over the consumer market. Being one of the first trillion-dollar companies Amazons influence is growing faster than ever. Besides planning to put an amazon distribution center on every block the company is trying to make strides with it’s A.I. helper Alexa. John Brodkin’s article, “Amazon Patents Alexa tech to tell if you’re sick, depressed and sells you meds” talks about…. exactly that. The technology that was patented detects abnormalities in users and determines their emotional or physical state. Brodkin talks about how the technology is designed to pick up on physical conditions such as when the user coughs or sneezes and emotional conditions like when the user cries. The reason behind amazon wanting to use these features is to administer advertisements for aids such as cold medication. While some could argue that this is a big step in artificial intelligence, I for one, think this will lead to a terrifying future. Big companies like Facebook have already come under fire for gathering its user’s information and amazon may be heading down the same route. As of right now it may just be for illnesses but what if it eventually Alexa is gathering other types of information like dates, purchase preferences, or even political opinions. The thought of talking to another human and Alexa secretly listening and gathering data on our conversation from the other room is the first step to a bleak A.I controlled future. Privacy is an important thing, and Brodkin’s even mentions that Amazon along with other companies had to attend a Senate Commerce Committee to testify about there consumer data privacy. These mega corporations are growing bigger everything is going digital. While that may be more convenient for some it also proposes many concerns for consumers who don’t want their information in some database that could be sold to any company with the highest bid, and who knows

  11. Deep Patel February 7, 2019 at 12:51 pm #

    Amazon in trying to adapt to future by using its Alexa to tell a human if they are sick or in an emotionally bad place in their lives. To add another feature on the Amazon Alexa such as diagnosis makes me wonder why it is necessary to have this feature and can it be trusted with identifying the right diagnosis. I understand technology is mostly accurate but there have been cases where technology has be faulty and given out incorrect information. There are so many services that humans provide and I believe healthcare diagnosis should be left to the doctors and medical personal. Healthcare is a very serious part of people’s lives and incorrect diagnosis can affect the way a human lives and receives treatments. I believe healthcare should only be handled by professional doctors who are trained and knowledgeable about the human body. In the article, it stated that the Amazon Alexa would be able to identify a small issue such as sore throat and coughing. I would not trust Alexa for my diagnosis as it cannot see me and it can only determine what my issue is with just my voice. However, I do believe there are some perks of having a technological diagnosis as it can order medicine for you quicker than going to the doctor. I do not believe a small device like the Alexa should be able to monitor everything I say and determine if I am sick. I love going to sporting events and I scream a lot and if when I come home to my Alexa it is most likely going to tell me you have a sore throat when I just lost my voice. I believe that Alexa’s information will be inaccurate most of the time and it will diagnose a human with something they do not have. My voice cannot be the only details required for an accurate diagnosis.
    Additionally, the Alexa can also determine if you are depressed and having mental issues. People that are depressed do not like to talk about it and they are more than likely to hide their depression. The only way to determine that they are depressed is to look at their body language and the way that person does its daily activities. Alexa cannot monitor your daily activities all it does is monitor your voice which is only one part of determining if a person is depressed. I personally would not trust a small circular robotic device to diagnose what my issue is. I prefer it to be used for personal use like it was made to do such as a speaker, alarm clock, turn lights on or off, or calling my contacts on my phone. I also believe it is like using the internet to diagnose yourself. It is mostly going to be inaccurate and unreliable. Therefore, I believe Amazon needs to tone it back a little and let technology develop and be tested before going all in to try to improve healthcare.

  12. Kayla Clavijo March 22, 2019 at 7:11 pm #

    Today people fail to realize Amazon’s cloud-based voice-operated systems, sit in millions of homes and spy on us, reporting our moods, tastes, wants, needs and fears back to HQ. It seems to me that Amazon wants to feed, treat, entertain, educate and now medicate America. According to this article Alexa, the voice-controlled speaker is now detecting illness in the voices of its users. As stated in the article, it could detect “happiness, joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states” and make suggestions based on those feelings. Although this device allows us to have easier lives, when it comes to health, users should rely on doctors. For a voice-controlled speaker to be able determine your emotions or if you’re sick through analyzing your voice seems a little uncanny. In my opinion, this device accuracy of diagnosing you will not always be correct and perhaps may feel like an invasion of privacy to many users.

    Amazon is marketing items such as cold medicine and cough drops to its users once it detects the user may be sick. However, Alexa is not a doctor. A doctor is someone who not only diagnoses you but gives you the proper medication based on the anatomy of your body and what they believe your body can handle. For this reason, I find Alexa being nowhere near as good as talking to an actual physician about your symptoms. Also, let’s keep in mind that some people naturally have a raspy voice, and it might be offensive if Alexa constantly thinks that they are sick. Indeed, Alexa does have her advantages, such as saving time, helping others not get sick if the user leaves their house and also helps users save gas simply by having the items delivered to their door. Although she is wonderfully helpful, her knowledge of the complex medical world is limited. This leaves me on the fence determining if Alexa is beneficial or simply damaging America.

    In addition, the issue of privacy certainly does concern me when it comes to this new patent and voice-operated systems in general. In the article Brodkin states, “Embodiments of the disclosure may use physical and/or emotional characteristics of a user in combination with behavioral targeting criteria, and/or contextual targeting criteria to determine and/or select content that may be relevant for presentation to a user.” In other words, Alexa would take into account the users browsing and purchase history and access to the number of clicks you use to better analyze users physical or emotional symptoms. While many consumers are already concerned with large companies having data about them, many consumers also see the convenience and don’t think about the long-term records that are being kept. In fact, I find data and machine learning being the foundation of Alexa’s power, and it’s only getting stronger as its popularity and the amount of data it gathers increases.

    Overall, Amazon’s success largely stems from its innovative technologies and practices. However, considering Alexa now being able to determine user’s diagnosis by voice, sell you meds and invading many user’s privacy, I find this new patent to be very untrustworthy. Also, this new patent suffers from two dovetailing issues and that is the overwhelming potential for invasive data collection, and Amazon’s lack of a clear policy on how it might prevent that. This is a few of many things Alexa lacks on or aims to do. It’s a nightmare and its also one you and many users can avoid.

  13. Diamond Vasquez April 18, 2019 at 10:57 pm #

    Now, I know that Alexa is a piece of technology developed by Amazon that can help you make phone calls, put things on your notes, and help you order things that you need; though, I would have never known that it can detect your emotional or physical state. “Amazon Patents Alexa Tech to Tell if You’re Sick, Depressed and Sell You Meds,” published by Jon Brodkin on arsTECHNICA, “’Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users,’ was issued in Tuesday of this week; Amazon filed the patent application in March 2017.” Once it detects an abnormality, Alexa will bring up promotions or ads of any sort of medicine that will be able to treat the abnormality, if it is more physical than emotional, and ask if he/she would like to order it and have it delivered in one hour. With this patent, privacy concerns have been raised about “letting its voice assistant analyze the emotional and physical states of Amazon customers.” According to Brodkin, “Amazon and other tech companies last month were called to a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to testify about consumer data privacy, and senators are considering whether to write a new privacy law.” Besides the patent of analyzing one’s emotional and physical states, it can also “take into account” a user’s browsing and purchase histories. A quote from the article states, “Embodiments of the disclosure may use physical and/or emotional characteristics of a user in combination with behavioral targeting criteria and/or contextual targeting criteria to determine and/or select content that may be relevant for presentation to a user.” The patent application describes how Alexa can determine the emotional state of any user no matter if he/she uses Alexa frequently or not.

    In my opinion, this is kind of scary. I mean it is very similar to when you see an advertisement on something you just saw on social media, and it pops up no matter how many times you see the same thing on social media, but it is weirder that Alexa is displaying promotions and advertisements based on the state of your well-being. On top of that, it can consider your browsing and purchasing histories to determine what content to display. I believe that that is violating one’s privacy. It is shocking to me about how advanced technology is becoming.

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