By: Kaley Duncan,
“Alexa tell me a joke.”
“I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger…and then it hit me.”
From dad jokes, to making a playlist on Spotify, and even dimming the lights in your home, Amazon’s Alexa can assist you with pretty much anything.
Personal assistant devices like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home are the new consumer fad. While many competitors such as Google Home have hit the market, Alexa seems to be the preferred device. As of May 2016, less than one year after its release, close to 2,000,000 Alexas had been sold. According to Amazon, Alexa has 10,000 skills available and “the more customers use Alexa, the more she adapts to speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preference.” With Alexa’s pairing device, Echo Dot, you can now have a voice controlled personal assistant in every room of your house.
Because these devices are such an integral part of consumers’ lives, privacy is a growing concern. Much like Apple’s feud with the F.B.I. over access to the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone, many tech companies have been standing up to the government and refusing to hand over consumer data. In May 2015, big companies including Facebook, Dropbox, Google, Apple, Twitter, and Yahoo signed a letter addressed to former President Obama urging him to back their privacy stances. This concern was soon shared by Amazon’s legal team when Benton County prosecutor, Nathan Smith, demanded information from Alexa in regards to a murder investigation. In a memorandum to the Circuit Court of Arkansas, Amazon stated that “[Alexa’s] interactions may constitute expressive content that implicates privacy concerns and First Amendment Protections.” Amazon has since given up its legal battle as the murder suspect voluntarily gave up information regarding his Echo devices. However, this suit brings up an interesting issue: Is Amazon’s novel approach just a legal hail marry used to ensure consumer privacy, or should artificially intelligent (“AI”) machines such as Alexa be entitled to First Amendment protections?
Toni Massaro and Helen Norton’s study suggests that they might be. Some AI machines are so removed from human interference, that arguments for granting them first amendment rights may not be as absurd as they sound.
“Modern computers can gather create, synthesize, and transmit vast seas of information as they become more ‘human-like’…Such computer speakers are increasingly self-directed or ‘autonomous’…[S]peech they produce is theirs, not ours, with no human creator or director in sight.”
According to Massaro and Norton, current free speech ideology does not limit freedom of speech protection to only humans. This may be true of even the least advanced artificially intelligent machines. Free speech theories tend to focus more on the expression of the speech rather than the speaker. Therefore enabling extension of the right to not only humans, but anything that can produce a relevant expression via speech.
Not surprisingly, many are opposed to extending constitutional rights to machines. Conjuring images of a machine world gone mad, reminiscent of the movie The Terminator, might lead some to be resistant. However, Massaro and Norton suggests a compromise; Rather than give AI machines primary rights, leave the primary rights to humans and give some sort of secondary rights to machines. That way, if information distributed by machines is not beneficial to humans, it may be judicially restricted.
As AI machines are quickly advancing, this debate cannot be pushed aside much longer. It may not be long until your Alexa is granted constitutional rights too.
 TJ Farhadi, 11 Dad Jokes that Prove Alexa is Funnier than Siri, Review Weekly Blog (Feb. 3, 2016) https://www.review-weekly.com/blog/technology/11-dad-jokes-from-amazon-echo/.
 Grant Clauser, What is Alexa? What is the Amazon Echo, and Should You Get One? NY TIMES: The Wirecutter (Feb. 10, 2017), http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/what-is-alexa-what-is-the-amazon-echo-and-should-you-get-one/; see also TJ Farhadi, 11 Dad Jokes that Prove Alexa is Funnier than Siri, Review Weekly Blog (Feb. 3, 2016) https://www.review-weekly.com/blog/technology/11-dad-jokes-from-amazon-echo/.
 Andrew Gebhart, Google Home vs. Amazon Echo: Alexa Takes Round 1, CNET (Feb. 2, 2017), https://www.cnet.com/news/google-home-vs-amazon-echo/.
 BI Intelligence, How Many Amazon Echo Smart Home Devices have been Installed?, Business Insider (Jun. 7, 2016, 8:00PM), http://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-amazon-echo-smart-home-devices-have-been-installed-2016-6.
 Amazon Developer, https://developer.amazon.com/alexa (last visited Mar. 12, 2017).
 Amazon Prime, https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Echo-Dot-Portable-Bluetooth-WiFi-Speaker-with-Alexa/b?node=14047587011 (last visited Mar. 12, 2017).
 Arash Khamooshi, Breaking Down Apple’s iPhone Fight with the U.S. Government, NY Times (Mar. 16, 2016) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/03/technology/apple-iphone-fbi-fight-explained.html?_r=0.
 Hope King, Tech Companies Standing up to Government Data Requests, CNN Tech (June 18, 2015, 6:06PM), http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/18/technology/data-protection-government/.
 Eric Ortiz, Prosecutors Get Warrant for Amazon Echo Data in Arkansas Murder Case, NBC News (Dec. 28, 2016, 2:13PM), http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/prosecutors-get-warrant-amazon-echo-data-arkansas-murder-case-n700776.
 Mem. ex rel Amazon’s Mot. to Quash Search Warrant at 1–2, Ark. v. Bates, No. CR-2016-370-2 (Benton Co. Cir. Ct. Ark. 2017), available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3473747-Amazon-Memorandum-Seeking-to-Quash-Echo-Search.html#document/p1.
 Rich McCormick, Amazon Gives up Fight for Alexa’s First Amendment Rights after Defendant Hands Over Data, The Verge (Mar. 7, 2017, 1:20AM) http://www.theverge.com/2017/3/7/14839684/amazon-alexa-first-amendment-case
 Toni Massaro & Helen Norton, Siri-ously? Free Speech Rights and Artificial Intelligence 110 Nw. Law Rev. 1169, 1173 (2016) (explaining that artificially intelligent machines might be entitled rights to freedom of speech)
 Id. at 1169.
 Id. at 1172.
 Id. at 1177.
 Toni Massaro & Helen Norton, Siri-ously? Free Speech Rights and Artificial Intelligence 110 Nw. Law Rev. 1169, 1175–78 (2016) (explaining that artificially intelligent machines might be entitled rights to freedom of speech)
 Id. at 1774.
Image Source: https://lawstreetmedia.com/blogs/technology-blog/alexa-first-amendment/.