Bank of America's AI assistant avoids Alexa-like eavesdropping

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Bank of America says its artificial-intelligence assistant isn't likely to listen in on private conversations the way's Alexa did last month.

Customers have to take a physical action to start using "Erica," the firm's virtual assistant that answers questions about banking and products, Cathy Bessant, Bank of America's chief operations and technology officer, said Tuesday at the Bloomberg Invest conference in New York.

"There is no potential for overhearing because the applications that support Erica can't be engaged unless there is a physical action, an authentication action," Bessant said.

Two customers in Oregon found out recently that their Amazon Echo — which uses "Alexa" software — had sent an acquaintance a recording of a private conversation. Amazon said the device thought it heard a series of commands, including "Alexa" and "send message."

Erica, which is meant to handle customer questions in English via a mobile app, was rolled out during the first quarter to U.S. consumers. Its debut was at least a few months late. Executives had promised beginning in January 2017 that it would be ready last year.

Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan said in a presentation last month that 450,000 people were using Erica and the app had logged more than 1 million "interactions."

Bloomberg News