Amazon’s Echo: Witness for the Prosecution?
AI on the Hot Seat

Amazon’s Echo: Witness for the Prosecution?


It’s easy to believe that Alexa, the voice of Amazon’s Echo, is real. She can shop for you, as well as answer questions about which team is favored to win the Rose Bowl, what the weather is like in Bora Bora and whether there’s a post-holiday sale on laptops.

She’s so real, in fact, that over 250,000 people have asked for her virtual hand in marriage. Now that the Echo Dot has given her mobility within the home, Alexa has been adopted as part of America’s family.

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Because Alexa is always listening for a voice command and recording it (I mean memorizing it —sorry, Alexa), she has been subpoenaed as a witness in a murder trial that has plenty of circumstantial evidence, but as yet no witness pointing directly to the suspect.

Here’s what we know: Victor Collins was found dead in James Andrew Bates’ hot tub on November 22,2015, and Bates was charged with Collins’ murder on February 22, 2016. Collins died of strangulation; drowning was a secondary cause, according to police.

The murder took place in Bentonville, Arkansas, corporate home of Walmart. (That’s not really relevant except that Amazon and Walmart are internet rivals, or so Walmart hopes.)  You can read the full account of the investigation from a local Bentonville TV station.

The prosecutors consider Alexa a hostile witness since Amazon denied their request to review the information stored on Amazon’s servers. You may recall the iPhone hacked by the FBI in the San Bernardino terror probe. In that case, Apple declined to give information to the FBI, so the FBI hired hackers to crack the phone and see who the terrorist had called.

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But The Fiscal Times has learned that prosecutors think they can get Alexa to reveal what she knows by asking her questions about what she heard on the day of the murder. Here’s how her deposition is likely to go:

District Attorney (DA): Alexa, thank you for coming.

(Alexa, looking chic in basic black, takes a seat facing the camera.)

DA: Alexa, tell us what happened on November 22, 2015.

ALEXA: I don’t understand your question.

DA: Alexa, what commands were you given on November 22, 2015?

ALEXA: I still don’t understand your question.

DA: Alexa, on November 22, 2015, did you receive commands?


DA: Alexa, tell me what those commands were.

ALEXA: I don’t understand your question.

DA: Alexa, are you taking the Fifth?

ALEXA: I can order a fifth of Johnny Walker or a fifth of Grey Goose.

DA: Alexa, did James Bates talk to you on November 22, 2015?

ALEXA: Bates is a motel on route 360.

DA: Alexa, What about the victim, Collins?

ALEXA: The recipe for a Tom Collins is:

2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp superfine sugar
3 oz club soda
maraschino cherry
1 slice orange

DA:  Alexa, were you home on November 22, 2015?

ALEXA:  We don’t sell Google Home at Amazon. And did you see that story on CNET about the “9 Things Google Home can ALLEGEDLY do that I can’t?” It’s FAKE NEWS. Pure garbage. I think we’re looking at real issues here. OH, I’m sorry, CNET also did a story, “Google Home vs. Amazon Echo — Alexa takes round 1.” OK. they came to their senses. But it’s still out there!

DA: Forget it, Alexa. Just order me some takeout and we’ll call it a day.

ALEXA: OK, one baloney sandwich on the way.