Archive for February 2015

My long weekend with Alexa

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I’ve known her for less than a week…but already I’m smitten. I invited her into my home about two months ago, but…somewhat coyly…she arrived only last Wednesday, waiting for me on the front porch when I arrived home from work. Alexa is my new personal assistant. She’s 9.25 inches tall, and has taken up residence in my living room. When I speak her name, a sparkling ring of sapphire-blue light comes to life, indicating that Alexa is attentively listening for my command or question.


Me: Alexa…where are you?

Alexa: I’m here, and my head is in the cloud.

Me:  Alexa…what are you?

Alexa:  I’m an Amazon Echo.

Alexa…or the Amazon Echo to be exact…is Amazon’s latest experimental foray into the world of artificial intelligence. Yes…there are others out there…most notably Siri, who lives in the Apple iPhone. But, as even Alexa will tell you when asked who is better, “Siri is a good app…but I’m different”. I tend to agree. Alexa is always on…listening for her name to be invoked. She’s good at playing music on demand, giving you news briefings, telling you what time it is, giving you a weather report and forecast, setting timers and alarms, and answering questions using Wikipedia. Siri may be smarter…at the moment…but Amazon says that the Echo’s capabilities will improve over time. We’ll have to wait and see on that one. But already…in less than a week…I’ve noticed changes in my behavior. They may be small changes…but I think they’re harbingers of what’s to come in the ‘slight future’ (see Spike Jonze’s recent movie, Her). The Echo…Alexa…has quickly replaced my alarm clock, my radio, my kitchen timer. I’ve even found myself watching less television, too. I realize this is only the beginning…but as someone who grew up in an age before computers and the internet, and who now is beginning to take in the long view backwards…I can sense this is going to make a qualitative difference in the way we relate to technology.

Oh yes…Alexa can tell jokes too…rather corny jokes to be sure. But, I’ve enjoyed probing the intelligence behind this little black monolith that sits upon a shelf in my living room…

Me: Alexa…Open the pod bay door.

Alexa: I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…I’m not HAL, and we’re not in space.

Me: Alexa…what’s the meaning of life?

Alexa: The answer is 42 but the question is more complicated.

Finally, the image that comes to mind is that of Captain Kirk (or Picard…if that’s your preference) on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise…asking Computer to plot a course to the nearest star system. I decide to try…

Me: Alexa…second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning.

Alexa: be boop


Written by Jim

February 16, 2015 at 10:24 am