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October 23, 2018

Will Soon Amazon’s Alexa Diagnose You And Buy Medicines?

A new Amazon patent “Voice-based determination of physical and emotional characteristics of users” allows to identify illness and emotions through voice and speech. You even wouldn’t need to tell how you feel or specify the symptoms.

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– Alexa, *cough* I’m hungry *sniffle*

– Would you like a recipe for chicken soup?

– No, thanks.

– Ok, I can find you something else. By the way, would you like to order cough drops with 1 hour delivery?

– That would be awesome. Thanks for asking!

– No problem. I will e-mail you an order confirmation. Feel better!

New feature could change Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa into a doctor that is always present at home and monitors your health status in real time. It will determine if the user has an abnormal physical or emotional condition and offer to sell a medicine.

A scenario presented in the patent shows the conversation between coughing women and Alexa. During a casual talk Alexa detects coughs and suggests to buy some medicines. Unlike some AI-based symptoms checkers like Ada, Alexa wouldn’t ask “how do you feel?” or “what symptoms do you have?”. It recognizes changes in voice to detect illnesses. So if next time you start coughing, Alexa will hear it, offer you a help and buy medicines that will be delivered straight to your home (in June, company announced that it had purchased an online chemist PillPack). Although voice monitoring is very limited in diagnosis process, it could be used to treat illnesses like cold, sore throat, flu or cough.

Voice says a lot about your physical and emotional condition

Voice processing could also have another application – analyzing the mood of the user to target precisely adverts or to suggest activities tailored to the mood. Amazon describes this feature as “determining audio content for presentation based at least in part on the abnormal condition”. Let’s say that you feel bored and don’t know what to do. Alexa could present you a new album of an artist that would fits your music taste and your actual mood state.

The feature was precisely described in the patent: “Outputs of the one or more voice processing algorithms may be used to determine whether a user is, or is likely, experiencing a certain emotional characteristic and/or has a certain physical trait or characteristic.

In the event a physical characteristic or emotional characteristic is determined, one or more tags associated with the respective physical or emotional characteristic may be generated and associated with or linked to a data file of the voice input. The one or more tags may be used to determine content for presentation to the user. For example, content that includes targeting criteria for the specific physical and/or emotional characteristics that a user has may be selected for presentation to the user. Other targeting criteria may also be used. As a result, timely and relevant content may be selected for presentation to the user. […] audio content may be targeted towards users with sore throats. If voice data is associated with a data tag indicating the user has a sore throat, then the first audio content may be candidate audio content and/or eligible for presentation to the user. In another example, if second audio content is targeted towards users who are sleepy, and if voice data is associated with a data tag indicating the user is sleepy, then the second audio content may be candidate audio content and/or eligible for presentation to the user.

This is not the first time Alexa lays claim to be something more than just an entertainment gadget at home. Recently, NHS has joined with Amazon to develop virtual nurse. The solution should take pressure of the NHS by keeping patients with minor illnesses out of doctors. Currently, if you ask Alexa about specific health problem, the answer is based on “Dr Google” searches.

Amazon’s patent, filed already in March 2017, doesn’t mean that the company work on any of the presented features. Many patents invented and filed by companies never make any money.

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