Alexa Won’t Call 9-1-1

Alexa will do a lot for you, but she will not call 9-1-1.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Amazon (Alexa) and Google (Google Assistant) have both restricted their virtual assistants from making telephone calls to emergency services, even as these devices are able to place non-emergency calls. Internet-connected devices are used in 20 million homes, according to Comscore Inc.

Even as Amazon’s “smart speaker” can play music, dim the lights, and place calls to friends and family, it won’t contact the fire department — no matter how nicely you ask.

Emergency communication professionals told WSJ that there are a number of reasons to keep Alexa from dialing 9-1-1. These include concerns about internet reliability and location accuracy, as well as the need for emergency dispatchers to document a caller’s phone number.

To pay for emergency infrastructure, local governments put a surcharge on cell and landline phone bills. Those surcharges would need to be extended to smart speakers were they to begin making emergency calls.

Right now, Alexa- and Google Assistant-enabled devices fall into the same regulatory exemption protecting digital communication companies like Skype from being required to make emergency calls.

An Amazon spokesperson told WSJ that although the Echo and Echo Dot, which both use Alexa AI, cannot dial 9-1-1, consumers can make emergency calls with Echo Connect, a gadget that can be connected to home phones and landlines. However, she did not disclose whether Amazon will extend that ability to its smart speakers in the near future.

“I can’t speculate on our future plans,” she said.


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