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STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
How Amazon and Google Smart Speaker Competition Reveals The Future of Government
By Joe Jarvis - December 11, 2017

I wouldn’t invite the Amazon Echo or the Google Home into my home.

These smart speakers listen to everything that happens around them. Ostensibly this is to make shopping, playing music, and finding information easy. But the internet of things presents way too many risks to our privacy.

Internet-connected technologies are already used to incriminate their owners in court. And that is the main thing which scares me. Self-driving cars, smart watches, and smart homes controlled entirely from your phone sound really cool and convenient. But I don’t want the government to have that kind of knowledge about me. I might feel differently if I knew the info wasn’t going anywhere beyond Google or Amazon headquarters.

An Industry in Need of a Shake-Up

Government is an industry. Much like other industries, it can be upset by upstart competitors. But governments have monopoly status in given territories for their services. They don’t allow competition, and they enforce this ban on competitors by using their monopoly on “legitimate” force.

Never the less some small countries now offer incentives to organize your affairs under their government. Usually, this requires physically moving. But places like Estonia, with their e-resident program, have hinted that location-based government might not remain the standard. It is the 21st century, after all, and the internet has transformed many industries. It is only a matter of time until the government meets its reckoning.

Countries like Estonia will help move these innovations in governance along. So will countries like Georgia which now uses the blockchain to store property records. And even upstart new countries like Somaliland, barely recognized internationally, have teamed up with private developers to host special economic zones that hope to become the next Dubai.

But established governments are not the only ones offering competition to traditional government. Tech giants are poised to become decentralized governments of sorts. And the best part is that purchasing their services would not require moving to a new legal jurisdiction.

So how do I get from an in-home device which assists with shopping and playing music, to a provider of vast government services?

The Market for Government Services

The government continues to expand by convincing everyone that they can get government services while someone else pays for them. But what if consumers had to shop for the services they wanted?

Think about it. What do people really want a government for? A lifeline. We want to be able to call 911 and be whisked off to safety. We want police to respond to an immediate threat. It’s about having some sort of safety net in case something goes wrong.

With the Amazon Echo and Google Home, they can one-up 911 any day. They are always listening. If something happens, they know. And they can immediately get you assistance.

Except that they are still trying to work around regulatory rules which prohibit them from connecting you to 911. Apple’s Siri can connect you to 911 on devices that can make and receive phone calls. The Echo can currently only call other Echo devices.

Without government regulations in the way, smart speakers would be better than Life Alert for the elderly afraid of falling. They don’t need to be within reach to use. They are also better than a phone for calling 911 during a medical emergency, or even a home invasion.

In fact, soon, you won’t even have to direct the devices to make the call. Siri will soon sense from your fingertip when to call 911. Smart speakers will hear break-ins or recognize the sounds of domestic abuse. Your body will tell smartwatches when to call for help.

Just the Beginning…

The obvious problem with all this is government abuse of the data. But another problem is that these devices are still connecting you to government dominated emergency services.

Response from police differs greatly between municipalities. And once you get into solving crimes, things get even worse. According to the FBI, only about 65% of murders, and a mere 40% of reported rapes see someone arrested for the crime.

But if you signed up for Amazon’s inside delivery service, they have a camera on your front entranceway, and the ability to lock and unlock your doors. If someone breaks in, they know immediately.

The same goes for smart speakers, smart watches, and any other technology on the internet of things. They can recognize crimes in real time, without the user having to act.

And let’s throw Facebook into the mix. When it comes to security, they know who is stalking you before anyone else.

Speaking of Facebook, their first major investor, Peter Theil, developed a technology called Palantir. This aggregates practically all the data in existence to understand complex social connections, and behavior patterns. The tech can help users perform hundreds of hours of police work in minutes.

But what good is all this technology if the police don’t show up when called, and don’t don’t solve the crime when they do show up?

That is where Amazon has a headstart on infrastructure. They already have a network of delivery for packages. They are connected to customers not just virtually but physically. They want to deliver packages by drones from motherships (or nearby trucks). They have regional distribution centers.

It would not be very hard to implement emergency response teams in select locations. Add a security agent to the shipping team, and package delivery could double as patrols.

When it comes to solving crimes, use Palantir.

Google has some interesting infrastructure as well. They were the first to introduce self-driving cars in order to take street view pictures of practically everywhere in the United States and most parts of the world. Imagine hiring Google to patrol your neighborhood. On Google Earth, you can make out individual people in their backyards. Imagine how much more Google can see…

Now to be sure, all this technology is creepy. But most people have invited into their own lives. It wasn’t forced on us by an authoritarian government. My main concern is that the government will use it against people.

But what about in a world where governments know that they have to compete to provide people services?

Surely Amazon and Google compete with certain things, their smart speakers being a prime example. But they also have very different business models. Each may dabble in the other’s territory, and each is surely always looking for the next market to enter.

But does either one think they can ever entirely eradicate their competition? Of course not.

Governments have never been able to eradicate competition either, though they have tried violently. The only reason they can use violence in competition is because they have dominated the security sector for so long. They monopolize the “legitimate” use of force.

And still, some people have always managed to find their way to a friendlier jurisdiction.

Competing government where people don’t have to flee their homes means governments have very little leeway to oppress. Competition alone is a powerful check on power. “Siri, cancel my Google Government subscription. Alexa, sign me up for Amazon prime government.”

We have long called government employees public servants. And that is the idea of government, to serve us. They should be providing for the people, not living at their expense.

Private governance is the culmination of the American dream of independence. For most of history government have been rulers and dictators. We now have the chance to have a government that truly serves.

You don’t have to play by the rules of the corrupt politicians, manipulative media, and brainwashed peers.

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