Amazon announced a new “home robot” with facial recognition technology, which can patrol the house and, according to the company, serve families as a kind of “butler.” Although many critics claim that the device is fragile and would represent a danger to privacy.
Amazon presented Astro, the intelligent robot, during its annual hardware event. Astro is designed to facilitate household chores and provide protection and security as it features a surveillance camera.
According to Bloomberg, one of the biggest privacy concerns with the little robot is that it “could contribute to greater public acceptance of AI-powered surveillance.”
Astro has a facial recognition camera that rises to about three feet. It can map a house as it walks through it and responds to vocal commands.
It can also learn habits of household members and remind each one of their activities, so it could locate any of the people who live there, and for example, bring them whatever they ask for.
Dave Limp, Amazon’s top hardware executive, said during an interview for CNBC on Friday:
“We had to leverage AI in so many new ways, including using deep neural learning to map anchor points throughout the home, and building new dynamic [simultaneous localisation and mapping] algorithms that are constantly refreshing.”
“In five to 10 years we believe every home will have at least one robot that will become a core part of your everyday life,” Limp added.
But according to internal reports published by Vice News, employees who worked on the Astro project criticized the quality of Amazon’s new flagship robot, saying, “Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity.”
For many, having an Amazon robot walking around the house might not be a minor security issue, especially considering the track record of other company devices, such is the case of the Alexa app, which was flagged, as reported by Breitbart, for violating users’ privacy.
In his column in The Verge, London-based journalist James Vincent wrote, “I think Astro is a half-baked concept and part of a dangerous trend of ubiquitous and unthinking surveillance. Although I accept the fact that many people want this sort of technology in their home, Amazon, in particular, has repeatedly shown a lack of care and honesty in how it develops this sort of tech.
“For many people looking at Astro, it may appear to be just a novelty—indeed, it’s already drawn comparisons to robot ‘pets’ like Aibo. But I think—like Facebook’s camera–equipped Ray-Ban glasses—the purpose of Astro is not to solve any particular problem, but to neutralize the underlying concept—to get people used to having a camera that moves constantly around their home. Astro isn’t a home robot, it’s a camera on wheels, and that’s just what Amazon wants.”