Family culture essay

Project Alias
2018



Collaboration with:
Tore Knudsen




 

Alias is a teachable “parasite” that is designed to give users more control over their smart assistants, both when it comes to customisation and privacy. Through a simple app the user can train Alias to react on a custom wake-word/sound, and once trained, Alias can take control over your home assistant by activating it for you.
 

When you don't use it, Alias will make sure the assistant is paralysed and unable to listen by interrupting its microphones.

Follow the build guide on Instructables
or get the source code on GitHub

 

Alias acts as a middle-man device that is designed to appropriate any voice activated device. Equipped with speakers and a microphone, Alias is able to communicate and manipulate the home assistant when placed on top of it. The speakers of Alias are used to interrupt the assistance with a constant low noise/sound that feeds directly into the microphone of the assistant. First when Alias recognises the user created wake-word, it stops the noise and quietly activates the assistant with a sound recording of the original wake-word. From here the assistant can be used as normally.
 

The wake word detection is made with a small neural network that runs locally on Alias, which can be trained and modified through live examples. The app acts as a controller to reset, train and turn on/off Alias.

The way Alias manipulates the home assistance allows to
create new custom functionalities and commands that the products were not originally intended for. Alias can be programmed to send any speech commands to the assistant’s speakers, which leaves us with a lot of new possibilities.

Our relationship with technology is formed from how we interact with it. However, commercial smart products for the home tends to treat the user as passive consumers. Especially smart-home assistance has shown design patterns that limits the possibilities of interaction and agency from the user perspective, even in the most private and personal sphere; the home.
 

Our interaction patterns are highly determined by the designers of these products, and with Alias we are interested in how this power relation can be redefined, especially when it comes to privacy. The exciting future that “smart” technologies can give us often comes with conditions that diminish our privacy. With Alias we want to challenge this condition and ask what kind of “smart” we actually want in the future.

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We looked at how cordyceps fungus and viruses can appropriate and control insects to fulfill their own agendas and were inspired to create our own parasite for smart home systems. Therefore we started Project Alias to demonstrate how maker-culture can be used to redefine our relationship with smart home technologies, by delegating more power from the designers to the end users of the products.
 

Meaning of “Alias”:

1. Used to indicate that a person is also known or more familiar under another specified name.

2. Misidentify (a signal frequency), introducing distortion or error.

Diagram: Input and output logic of Alias

An audio sample of the noise used to infect the microphones of smart devices

Get the source code on GitHub
Download the Press Kit

Tools used in this project: 
Raspberry Pi, 3D printing, Python, Tensorflow, Keras, Flask, Javascript, HTML, and CSS.

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