Amazon Echo VP Mike George talks Alexa security and simplifying search

In a wide-ranging conversation at Disrupt today, Mike George, Amazon’s Vice President of Echo, Alexa and Appstore discussed the past and future of the company’s surprise hit home appliance.

George kicked things off by explaining that he wasn’t aware of rumors that the project started life as a top-secret AR project. He also dismissed the notion that the Echo was released as a sort of response to the company’s oft-maligned shot at the mobile space, the Fire Phone, instead insisting that the company develops many of its products simultaneously.

Though, he did add, “We’ve learned a lot from the Fire Phone. “ And by most accounts, the Echo has received a much warmer response. While George wouldn’t offer any specific hardware numbers, the exec noted that the device has received 30,000 reviews on Amazon. “I think a third of the reviews reference ‘love’,” he added. “I think it’s really resonating with the user base.”

George chalked the success up to the product’s simplicity, removing the need for the user to take a device from out of their pocket to enter a query. And while he believes Alexa also helps streamline search, he doesn’t see it supplanting Google any time in the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think search as we use it today is going anywhere any time soon,” he explained. “I do think we’re making accessing information materially simpler. I think it’s going to dramatically make it simple. The way search works today, you, the human has to disambiguate the list. We do a lot of work to figure out what you meant and come out with the one right answer you’re looking for.”

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The VP also addressed security concerns with regard to surveillance worries and Amazon’s push to open Alexa up to third parties. “You have visual indicators and audio indicators,” he said. “We save all your utterances to your account so you can see them and delete them. I would say that our SDKs and APIs are secure. If some developer chooses to put something malicious in their code, I have limited control over that. But I do have control over what happens when you’re speaking with Alexa.”