As the popularity of personal assistant devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa increases, people are grappling with concerns over privacy — especially after a recent report that Alexa had recorded a couple’s conversation and sent it to a friend without their knowledge or permission.
Now, there’s another story, this time involving Google Home, that’s raising its fair share of eyebrows. According to a new report, someone has used the device to actually fire a gun.
The individual in question is Alexander Reben, an MIT-trained roboticist whose specialization involves finding the dangers lurking behind household objects that, on the surface at least, are designed to make life easier. The Google Home device – which allows users to listen to music, check the weather, get news reports, and schedule calendar events using their voice – recently drew Reben’s attention.
Reben’s project involved using more than simply the Google Home speaker, but most of the materials he employed can be acquired fairly easily, depending on where you live. Rather than hacking the Google Home, he used a smart plug (or a wall plug that’s activated via Bluetooth), a pellet gun, and a solenoid (used by the change dispensers found in laundromats).
Once he was done assembling the contraption, Reben was able to fire the pellet gun simply by uttering the words “OK Google, activate gun.” In a video Reben uploaded to YouTube, you can see the various components working together and witness the pellet gun firing following his command. Remarkably, Reben says he completed the whole project in just 30 minutes.
In fairness, the project isn’t designed to slam Google, the Home speaker, or even personal assistants. In fact, Reben acknowledges you could use a similar setup in combination with an Amazon Alexa, Echo, or even basic cell phone to fire the gun.
Nevertheless, Reben feels it’s important to show what’s possible using just a few of the emerging technologies that rely on Bluetooth and voice activation. “How much should a company be able to foresee how their technology will be used and how much can they ultimately control?” Reben asked. “Even more interestingly, what happens when machines start making the decisions?”
For its part, Google says this isn’t exactly what the Home speaker is intended to do, nor is it possible to fire a gun without using the extra parts Reben employed for his project. “This appears to be a homebrew project that’s controlled by a smart outlet, not something that’s programmed into the Assistant or uses any type of A.I.,” Google said. “This isn’t condoned by Google and could not launch as an Action for the Assistant because it’s against our Terms of Service, which prohibits Actions that promote gratuitous violence or dangerous activities.”
Reben wasn’t surprised by Google’s reaction; in fact, he agreed with their assessment. Nevertheless, he thinks it’s important to realize the possibilities presented by such technology.
“Part of this project was a response to some of the news about deep learning and artificial intelligence being used for military applications,” Reben said. “This is a provocation, sure, but the simplicity of it is a good way to jump-start a conversation.
“I don’t have the answers, but I think we need to have a conversation.”