The brain slugs have arrived – but not for humans.
Project Alias is a strange-looking 'parasite' that sits on top of your Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker to act as a middleman between you and the service, with the intention of increasing privacy.
Instead of talking directly to Alexa or Google, you speak to Alias, which speaks to the smart speaker on your behalf, then relays the answer.
The point of all this is to ensure your speaker can't be listening to anything you don't want it to. For something like Alexa to work, the mic has to be on all the time listening for the 'wake word' (Alexa) in conversation. The speaker only connects to Amazon when it hears the word, to process what you said afterwards and respond appropriately – but it has led to some awkward situations like private conversations being recorded and forwarded on, or search commands being sent to a stranger.
Project Alias's solution is to play static into the smart speaker's mic all the time, only stopping when you give Alias a command that it has to pass on.
The 'parasite' is 3D-printed and includes a Raspberry Pi, mic and two speakers. There's an Instructables page to show you how to make it yourself, and the source code is on GitHub. Currently there's no way to buy Project Alias, you have to make your own, but unsurprisingly people are asking for a pre-made one they can just buy and install. Though doesn't giving money to a third party to trust their smart speaker kind of defeat the purpose?
The slightly gross, trypophobia-inducing design of the unit is inspired by the extremely disturbing cordyceps fungus, which takes over insects' bodies and puppets them to do its bidding:
While the privacy aims of Project Alias are very laudable, the feature we reckon people will be most excited about is the ability to set whatever wake word you want. In other words, you can talk to your alias with "Hello HAL," or "Hey Janet" or "What's up, Queeg" – delighting nerds everywhere.
The people in the video make some slightly odd choices – Milkshake?!
As you can see, the response still comes from the original smart speaker -- it's just the input that's changed. Saying "hey Google" near a speaker with Alias installed will do absolutely nothing, and clearly that's what some people want.
The important question is, though, what would you call yours?