The dark possibilities of voice-command devices

The most recent fashionable item to own in Western households is a digital cylinder that understand your requests and carries them out, known as a voice-command device. Amazon’s Echo was the trailblazer in this field but Apple have caught up with their Alexa device. These devices, with their ability to listen to users, understand their speech, process the requests, reply and carry out the digital tasks, are being viewed as a boon to a busy household. Unfortunately, no one seems to be talking about the big potential problems that are inherent in these devices.

A while back, I wrote a short article on this website explaining the potential for hacked smartphones and laptops to hypnotise their owner if left on, by their bed, at night. As many psychological and medical studies have shown, it is relatively easy to influence a person by speaking to them while they are asleep. This method is has been used a lot for self-hypnosis and unconscious learning. For example, you can set up a tape that tells you how good you are, or a tape that reads out a textbook, while you’re asleep. In the morning, you wake up super-confident or more knowledgeable, depending on the tape. This all sounds good and although it may not work, depending on circumstances, there’s lots of evidence that it can work to some extent. The dark side of this method is the possibility of someone hacking your device and telling you things, to influence or control your thinking while you sleep.


I was reminded of this possibility recently when a website article reported on several users of Apple's Alexa device reporting that their devices had been talking in the night without any prompting by their users. What’s more, the devices did not log that they had been talking. Clearly, there can be several perfectly reasonable explanations for this occurrence, but it does fit with the dark scenario I’ve just been describing.

Cautious readers may decide to turn off or unplug their Alexas or Echos at night, to prevent this problem ever occurring, if such a thing can occur. Unfortunately, this may not leave them free of possible influence. There is another form of audio hypnotism that can occur while the user is awake. One method of self-improvement through audio playback is to play back statements while the subject is awake, but at a volume level that is too low for the subject to consciously notice. This is known as ‘whisper volume’. The subject can consciously hear it, but the sound is nevertheless loud enough for the subject to subconsciously pick up. This method is explained in this website. Once again, such a method can be used for a dark purpose. A hacker can influence a human target through a hacked device, by talking to them in 'whisper mode' even when the person is awake, without the subject even being consciously aware of what is going on.

I don’t know how effective the above two methods are - sleep talk-control and whisper talk-control, but I’m guessing that many military departments and secret services have spent a lot of time and money establishing exactly how much a person can do with such tools. It is also highly likely that some of the big corporations have also invested money in developing such techniques, as they would be immensely valuable in terms of encouraging sales. In some ways, it is strange that our media does not talk about the power of computer-assisted hypnosis, as it is logically a hugely powerful tool. Some commentators have talked about the dangers of hacked devices running automated AI programmes to exploit human vulnerabilities, such as in this article, but I haven't found anyone talking about the dangers of hacked devices doing AI hypnosis.

Obviously, our civil laws and human rights prevent such digital-hypnosis methods being used on the general public, but what if a hacker or ‘rogue state’ gained enough access and knowledge to put them to use? One hacker, with enough programming time and the right codes, could well insert code in hundreds of thousands of devices and thereby set up an automated system of mass mind-control, sending out hypnotic messages, tailored to each user using their social networking history. The hacker could programme these events to take place either through day-time ‘whisper mode’ or night-time ‘sleep mode’. Since all these devices have microphones, the devices could detect for any signs that the user has noticed what's going on and cease their actions. It would be a very effective system. Through this method, one single hacker could ultimately mind-programme a nation or nations. It’s a very disturbing thought. Hopefully, it’s only a speculative idea. It would certainly making a thrilling story, if anyone has the stomach to watch.