A NEW DEVICE to make smart speakers safe from The Man has been one of the surprise hits of CES.
Project Alias looks a bit like a scobi (ask your hippy mates) and fits over the top of the speaker - there are models for Alexa and Google Assistant-based devices - playing white noise into the microphone.
The idea is that this confounds the "always listening" aspect of the device, meaning that all Google and Amazon's records will show is a constant hiss.
If that sounds a bit pointless, don't worry, here comes the science bit. Project Alias has its own microphone that isn't connected to anything other than the Raspberry Pi that powers the device. When Project Alias's microphone hears your "wake word" (either OK Google or Alexa) it is triggered to turn off the hiss and let the speaker listen.
Result: all the smart speaker, none of the always-on listening, none of the recordings.
Given that we've already seen recordings from Amazon being used in US courts, and yes, in murder trials to boot, its fairly safe to say that this is a big deal - as long as it stays in the right hands.
"Ah" we hear you say (coz we're always-on-listening to you) "what about custom commands?". Yes, we say - it can be programmed to recognise wake words other than the defaults - great for Trekkers who like being able to say "Computer" to Alexa in a Picard stylee.
"Ah" we hear…. ok we've exhausted that. But what about accents, and multiple user recognition? Yes, you're covered there too - Project Alias will learn both with use. In fact, it can be trained to only respond to "Hey Alias" and
"Ah"… (alright, enough now) - surely this is expensive. Nope again. This is no commercial device - it's a maker project and full instructions can be downloaded from the internet, whilst the code is on Github.
The best bit of this? It puts you in complete control. You won't be swapping one spy for another. Providing you understand the code, obviously. μ
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