The Alexa virtual assistant is becoming a defacto servant, a go-to intimate service to do small things ("Alexa – set the timer for 10 minutes") to bigger things ("Alexa – text Mark and tell him I don't approve the designs and set up a calendar meeting for us in two hours"). We are depending on Alexa for help throughout the day and it is slowly becoming indispensable.
Google, Facebook, and other similar platforms do not have this level of trust and do not provide such an intimate service. They do have their strengths and weaknesses – Google with its search and Facebook with its community building. We cannot imagine a future without these services either. But they don't solve real problems every day. And that's what gives Amazon its power.
We do pay a premium though. Amazon collects as much data on us as any of the other platforms. A key difference is that Amazon uses the data to solve problems for us.
Amazon's approach to providing such an intimate service could run into trouble. It is not immune to cyber attacks against its home locks and car security. In addition, the new human workforce needed to deliver these packages could be a source of criminal activities. Devices like web cameras are notoriously insecure and cars have proven to be easy targets for hackers using wireless connections.
A key challenge for the company is to ensure the integrity of its human workforce who carry out these deliveries and the software security of its technology used in homes and cars. This challenge will never go away because humans intent on causing harm can defeat employer controls put in place to prevent criminal behaviors.
Hackers are creative and will find ways to turn the Amazon services into a nightmare. Yet, Amazon is doubling down, by expanding the service to cars, indicating that demand could be strong.
And the company is going even further in its quest to be a supreme service provider.
An Amazon robot rumored to be forthcoming should enhance the value of the Amazon services as well as take intimacy to a whole new level. It will also take the Amazon security challenge to a whole new level. What will it be? It should be a robot that will solve problems rather than do cute things that can be put on Facebook posts.
I would expect it to have several parts. The first is that the human to robot interface will be Alexa and it will have some sort of robot body. It will help out with solving our daily and transient problems like reading to a child, program the remote control to finally work, doing the laundry, and other problems that occur and we need solved right then and there.
It should have a drone that can take the laundry basket upstairs, take food to guests in the basement, and respond to the basement sump pump alarm immediately and send video to your phone with analysis of the problem as you sit there in bed at 3 AM wondering what is that really loud alarm going off in my house?
Amazon solves real-life problems on a daily basis for us. Google and Facebook simply do not have this level of trust or intimacy.
Commentary by Timothy Carone, an associate teaching professor in the Department of IT, Analytics, and Operations in the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.
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