Amazon’s ad for the Super Bowl features the company’s Alexa-powered speakers with a cast of the rich and famous including Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos. Other celebrities making an appearance in the ad include Rebel Wilson, Cardi B, Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Hopkins.
Amazon Echos in consumers’ homes did not wake up at the mention of the word “Alexa” which was voiced 10 times in the 90 second spot. The speakers are customized to differentiate commands from users and those from other sources. According to an Amazon spokeswoman, Alexa ads are modified to prevent Echo devices from erroneously reacting at the utterance.
Amazon has taken steps to ensure that the smart speakers are immune from such interference from advertisements. According to a patent that was published in 2014, Amazon described “Audible command filtering” which is a system that prohibits Alexa from waking up. This is particular to a transmission that affects a huge segment of the population for example a political rally or sporting event. If Alexa were to wake up in response to such a broadcast then Amazon’s servers would be inundated with tens of millions of concurrent requests leading to congestion and frustrated users.
The patent lays out the help given to the Echo device to prevent a false wake up. This is by broadcasting a fragment of the ad to all Echo devices before it airs so that the device compares the acoustic fingerprint and live commands and ascertains which one is genuine. It further reveals another way of accomplishing the same through a muted acoustic signal in the ad itself which informs Alexa to disregard its wake word.
Amazon has been using the latter method which allows Alexa ads to broadcast sounds beyond the most responsive breadth of human hearing that lies between 3,000 and 6,000 hertz. This helps the digital assistant to disregard specific commands when it perceives distortions in in the specrum.
The company admitted that it uses “acoustic fingerprinting technology” that helps the Echo to differentiate between actual commands from users and an advertisement. However another challenge that the Echo faces is an unanticipated mention of the word “Alexa” on a regular TV show. This is mitigated through Amazon’s cloud service. The servers are capable of identifying a match instantly and generating an audio fingerprint on the fly. This helps to thwart any responses from as much as 80 to 90 percent of Echo devices.