BUSTED: THOUSANDS OF AMAZON EMPLOYEES LISTENING TO ALEXA CONVERSATIONS

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BUSTED: THOUSANDS OF AMAZON EMPLOYEES LISTENING TO ALEXA CONVERSATIONS

The listening team is comprised of part-time contractors and full-time Amazon employees based all over the world; including India, Romania, Boston and Costa Rica

Amazon employs thousands of people to listen in on what people around the world are saying to their Alexa digital assistant, according to what is sure to be a Congressional hearing-inspiring report by Bloomberg, which cites seven people who have worked on the program. 

While their job is to “help improve” NSAlexa – which powers the company’s line of Echo speakers – the team “listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices,” which are then transcribed, annotated and fed back into the software in order to try and improve Alexa’s understanding of human speech for more successful interactions. In other words, humans are effectively helping to train Amazon’s algorithm.

In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.” But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching. -Bloomberg

The listening team is comprised of part-time contractors and full-time Amazon employees based all over the world; including India, Romania, Boston and Costa Rica.

Listeners work nine hour shifts, with each reviewing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift according to two employees from Amazon’s Bucharest office – located in the top three floors of the Romanian capital’s Globalworth building. The location “stands out amid the crumbling infrastructure” of the Pipera district and “bears no exterior sign advertising Amazon’s presence.”

While much of the work is boring (one worker said his job was to mine for accumulated voice data for specific phrases such as “Taylor Swift” – letting the system know that the searcher was looking for the artist), reviewers are also listening on people’s most personal moments.

Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording. -Bloomberg

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