This time last year, Lancashire Police said they'd like to see smart assistants like the Amazon Echo add functionality to call the authorities for you. Well, it seems they were ahead of their time, because Scotland Yard has just announced it's working on exactly that.
While "Hey Google, I'm on fire" might not be the first thing to escape your mouth in an emergency, the idea does make sense – asking a smart assistant for help is far more likely to get you results than just screaming "HEEEELP" and expecting there to be proactive humans within earshot.
On the other hand, everyone's experienced having to give a smart speaker the same command two or three times to get the result they wanted, and that's somewhat sub-obtimal when you're being stabbed to death.
It's also hard to imagine how you could program in all the possible ways people might ask for help -- a human would understand "he's got a knife" means "call the police," but can Alexa? Will they think of every possible permutation of calling for an ambulance, fire engine or police car?
Also, can we really expect people to start their cries for help with "OK Google" or "Alexa"? It seems a tad casual given the circumstances.
A report on the scheme in the Times explains that "contact may be triggered by the human issuing a command to their bot, or it may be automatically generated by the bot through AI." Which presumably means that just a scream would be enough to get someone called -- good luck watching horror movies ever again, then.
This sounds like a fiendishly difficult project to program, so we have major respect for the team at Scotland Yard and the tech companies making the effort to try to get it right. Lives will quite literally be saved if it works.
The tech will potentially be ready in the next two years, but it's obviously not implemented yet, so please don't rely on Alexa yet if you need help. [TrustedReviews]