A world in which AI-powered surveillance systems appropriate the work of canines is not a world in which I want to live. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a dog.
As a canine member of a loving home, I was stunned by the features Amazon announced that it has afforded its new home security system, Alexa Guard Plus. Building on its previous Alexa Guard system, the “Guard Plus” now offers new features, such as the ability to detect the sound of breaking glass, or to dial a helpline in case of an emergency.
The most egregious feature? Away Mode. As an intruder deterrent, users can tell this “Alexa” to mimic the sounds of our barks.
Shocked. Disgusted. Reeling. These are just some of the emotions I feel at Amazon’s reduction of the steadfast security provided by dogs to their families to a digital facsimile of our voice.
However, I cannot say that I am surprised — not by Amazon’s insensitivity to the work of dogs, nor by its lack of understanding of what true security really means.
Let’s talk about this “barking” feature. Does Alexa have any idea about the myriad decisions and strategies that go into securing a perimeter? The pitch of our voices, the ability to run back and forth and back and forth to lock down the property? The baring of teeth! This is NOT something a robot can provide. But a pale imitation of security is all too on-brand for Amazon Guard systems.
Contrary to what it claims, for years, the Amazon Ring has been undermining rather than providing peace of mind. When a human leaves their home or goes to sleep at night with a dog on guard, they can have confidence that all is well. If anything is amiss, we’ll take care of it, or at least let them know. We won’t bother them with every little going on throughout the day, because we’ve got it under control.
But introduce a Ring? Every package delivery, every traveling bible salesman, is another ping on their phones — a jolt that something may be wrong. The omnipresence of the Ring changes the perspective of a human, implying that they must be constantly watching for trouble, just waiting for the catastrophic ping that will, in all likelihood, never come.
The Ring is a step too far towards a paranoia that’s led to less secure communities, not more. I recognize my bias as a dog when I say that I am averse to the uniformed government employee. They’re always overstepping, them and the postal workers. But the Ring specifically allies itself with officers of the law whose appearance leads to risk, since it can send footage from YOUR neighborhood to the police.
Dogs, on the other hand, are more effective at deterring actual threats. We’ll keep your secrets, and observe you with love and generosity — not siphon information in an attempt to sell you things. Most importantly, we’ll genuinely get to know the neighborhood we serve and protect, creating a web of mutual care amongst our colleagues down the block, not a digital network of suspicion.
Unfortunately, Guard Plus is just Amazon’s latest attempt to replace the work of living, breathing beings with automated systems. We dogs stand on all four legs with the mom-and-pop shops put out of business and the shop register workers whose forces are dwindling as Amazon installs intelligent cameras in automated stores. What’s next? Will Guard Plus reduce dogs to just one facet of the important work we do in families (providing love and licks), as Alexa encourages our families to silence us?
Alexa Guard Plus is a bridge too far, Amazon. So, as a dog, I say to all families: Preserve the dignity of canines and true peace of mind by allowing trusted members of your families — who personally, deeply care about your safety — with your homes. Do not replace us. All we ask is treats.