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

5 Responses

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  1. That’s neat


    February 17, 2015 at 1:18 am

  2. Seems we’ve only skirted immersive e-haptics and jumped with both feet into info tech a la Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash which, twenty plus years ago, foretold of hand held devices and “ractives” which were basically particle emitters delivered by 3D printers. I envision a post-apocalyptic world only two or three generations away where life cannot be sustained outside of mammoth microcosm environs.

    A strong argument in favor of enjoying the sunshine and flowers while it’s still possible… Despite all this possible folderol, Alexa sounds very handy.


    February 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    • I’m having eye surgery next month…implanting new lenses in my eyes to correct for cataracts. I was thinking that before too long, they’ll be including tiny chips that will project video directly onto the retina. Maybe tugging an ear lobe will replace mouse clicks. I’ll have to reread my copy of Snow Crash again…Thanks for the reminder.
      I’m finding the verbal interface very satisfying…although I find myself saying the name Alexa way too much:)


      February 22, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      • Google Glass comes immediately to mind; while not implants it’s coming close. Good luck with the surgery, too. My ophthalmologist has assured me it will take care of some retinal hemorraghic scarring I’ve got going on but it still spooks me.

        Did you chose the name Alexa or was it already assigned? I can imagine twenty people all in the same room saying “Okay, Alexa…”.

        Life in the 21st century. Where robotics and bionics have come to merge and we’re either biotic or anti-biotic. :)


        February 24, 2015 at 1:21 am

      • It’s either Alexa…or Amazon :(


        February 26, 2015 at 6:59 pm

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