Alexa Our First Witness
With technology advancing at such a rapid pace today, we are continuously experiencing new frontiers in the realms of data and Artificial Intelligence. Years ago, there were no worries about having enough storage space for data, or having to adjust privacy settings on multiple devices for security, or even speeds of data transmission, for the average individual. Today, however, we are almost always connected to some form of Narrow AI, transmitting gigabytes and terabytes of data we never thought possible.
Among the many benefits of a Narrow AI, is apparently, and unexpectedly, their ability to act as a witness to a crime. As odd as it may seem, and possibly even unbelievable, one particular device could potentially provide the evidence needed to solve a murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The Amazon Echo device is an “always on” device. This allows Alexa to “listen” for commands and various questions without any other action having to be made to prompt her to do so. In order for Alexa to have the answers requested, it must also maintain a connection to the internet. This allows you to ask about the weather, to play music or simply answer some trivia question and get a mostly accurate answer.
In November of 2015, Victor Collins, a former law-enforcement officer in Georgia, as well as two other men, gathered at the home of James Bates to watch a football game. Throughout the game and further into the night, the men drank beer and vodka with one of the visitors leaving early. The remaining three men chose to continue the evening in Bates’ hot tub.
At 1 a.m. Bates claimed to have gone to bed, leaving Collins and the other man in the tub. Bates said he found Collins floating face down in the hot tub when he woke up several hours later, according to the affidavit (1).Initially, the other man left with Collins in the tub was suspected, but has since been ruled out. As the investigation continued, troubling inconsistencies in Bates’ story, along with abrasions on his hands indicating a struggle, ended up making him the prime suspect(2). Collin’s wedding ring, broken glasses and a broken shot glass were later found while further searching Bates’ home. Bates was later arrested and charged with first degree murder, due for trial later this year.
Also found while searching his home, was an Amazon Echo. Authorities, realizing that Alexa is always on and online, served a warrant to Amazon for any audio or records from the Echo owned by James Bates that may have been logged on its servers during the night of the murder (2).Amazon declined to offer any information directly from their servers. However, the company did provide Bates’ account details, essentially allowing the authorities to access the data directly. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but so far, it’s still unclear what info they were able to access (3).
Whether or not Alexa managed to hear any relevant information remains to be seen, but the case is the first of its kind, making Alexa the first Artificial Intelligence “bot” to receive a subpoena. In the near future, we should be able to see the historic case unfold, where hopefully, Alexa can not only assist with our silly trivia questions, but can also provide important insight for law enforcement, much like computers and search history have done in the past. However, Alexa’s contributions have the capability to be ground breaking in the field of forensic technology.