Amazon Wants Alexa to Detect When You Are Sick and Sell You Meds

The voice assistants may soon determine your physical and psychological state to recommend you appropriate products.
Loukia Papadopoulos

We have all heard about the increasing recent innovations focused on making robotics and gadgets that are emotionally intelligent. In fact, the ability to read human emotions is a highly desired trait for technology companies.

Now, Amazon has filed a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office that would enable its Alexa devices to do just that. The advancement could see the voice assistants analyze user commands to detect illness or even depression and then proceed to recommend related-medicines.

Detecting "abnormal" states

According to the patent's description, the upgrades would allow Alexa to detect "abnormal" physical conditions such as "sore throats and coughs "and even psychological ones such as "an excited emotional state or a sad emotional state" through voice inputs. The system could then attribute these detections to their underlying conditions.

"A cough or sniffle, or crying, may indicate that the user has a specific physical or emotional abnormality," further elaborates the patent. Once this has been determined, Alexa could then suggest possible merchandise related to the user's suspected ailments.

"A current physical and/or emotional condition of the user may facilitate the ability to provide highly targeted audio content, such as audio advertisements or promotions, to the user," the patent stated.

The patent uses the most direct example of a user with a sore throat to illustrate this new feature. A user who is coughing or has a raspy voice will likely see Alexa ask: "would you like to order cough drops with 1 hour delivery?"

Should the user reply yes, Alexa can even offer a cheerful and empathetic confirmation featuring a sympathetic statement such as "feel better!'" However, before this feature makes it to market, Amazon would have to guarantee that it does not violate users' privacy rights.

Amazon Wants Alexa to Detect When You Are Sick and Sell You Meds
Source: USPTO

Privacy violating?

Last September, saw several technology giants called to a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to be questioned regarding consumer data privacy. Andrew DeVore, Vice President and Associate General Counsel of Amazon was in attendance.

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“Consumers deserve clear answers and standards on data privacy protection,” said in a statement, at the time, U.S. Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “This hearing will provide leading technology companies and internet service providers an opportunity to explain their approaches to privacy, how they plan to address new requirements from the European Union and California, and what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation.”

Proving that an emotion-detecting system is privacy-compliant may prove rather tricky. By its very definition, a device that can determine a human's physical or psychological state without their consent seems privacy-violating.

However, Amazon may be seeking to target only users who wish to have the option enabled. In that case, the question of consent becomes a non-issue. 

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