Amazon’s Super Bowl ad won’t activate your Echo device, but why?

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Super Bowl ad

How can Bezos & Co. possibly have a Super Bowl ad talking about Alexa and Echo devices without waking up all of those Echoes?

Since nobody seems to care about being surprised anymore, you can probably see all of the ads scheduled to air this Sunday during the Super Bowl online already. Amazon is one such company showcasing a Super Bowl ad, and it focuses on Alexa, their digital assistant who lives in all of our Echo devices. You can watch the commercial below, it’s kind of silly.

The commercial says “Alexa” ten times, which depending on where your Echo is located should by logical reason activate at least one or two of the millions of Echo devices within earshot of a television playing the Super Bowl. There’s been a precedent for that happening and more, with a simple newscast ordering dollhouses for a number of unsuspecting households, and other commercials wreaking havoc on digital assistants.

Amazon had considered this possibility well before they released an Echo device, filing for a patent in 2014 titled Audio Command Filtering. Feel free to read the whole thing if you’re so inclined, but the meat of the patent points to a few specific conditions:

The people with devices that react to the wake word may experience their devices inadvertently waking up and potentially executing commands following the wake word thereby interfering with the television watching experience. Further, if the advertisement is shown as part of a broadcast watched by a large population (such as during a popular sporting event), the advertisement may result in many devices “waking up” at the same time. If those devices are programmed to connect to a central server upon waking up, the central server may become overwhelmed with many devices activating at the same time.

Basically, if all of the Echoes within earshot of a Super Bowl ad were activated and sending requests to Amazon servers at the same time, that could be problematic. But how can Bezos & Co. possibly have a Super Bowl ad talking about Alexa and Echo devices without waking up all of those Echoes? Think dog whistles, but for Alexa.

The advertisement likely features an inaudible acoustic tone along with the rest of the commercial audio. A Reddit user that goes by “aspyhackr” did some digging about a year ago and found that Amazon advertisements seemed to reduce audio levels between 3,000 and 6,000 hertz. The Echo seems to look specifically for audio in that spectrum when listening for a wake word, so in its absence, no response. That area is outside of most normal human’s hearing anyway, so we won’t even notice that it’s gone, but it could prevent annoyed Echo owners, or hammered Amazon servers, this Super Bowl Sunday.

What do you think about this kind of filtering? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: Bloomberg
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