The Amazon Echo is a personal electronic assistant, which are three words that never used to go together before. If you ask “Alexa” for the weather, or to play you some music, she will do so more expediently than most other methods. It looks like a small round cake, and I got one for Christmas.
After I unsuccessfully tried to eat it, the first thing I did was to try to get Alexa into a fight with Siri. I said, “Alexa, who is the iPhone online assistant, and doesn’t she have a nasally voice?” Alexa lied and said she didn’t know. So obviously there is some sort of code of honor. The second thing I did was to make a mental note to invite two friends over named Alexa. I think it would be fun to see which is the smartest, or get the three of them into a fight about their weight.
Alexa is capable of making a “smart home” out of my house. For about six grand, I can get a Samsung refrigerator that talks to me using Amazon Echo. The first thing I want to ask it is what is that green thing that’s in a Ziploc in the back of the top shelf? It’s been there since the Eisenhower Administration. Or I can get an Amazon Fire TV that has interactive capability, so I can fight with yet somebody else over what show to watch. If having a “smart home” was so important to me I would simply move out, and the intelligence level of the place would go up at least 30 points.
The Echo has microphones that are always active, waiting to hear the word “Alexa,” whereupon it digitally records the following sounds, ostensibly to hear the subsequent question or command. The device has figured into a homicide investigation in Bentonville, Ark., where a bunch of dudes drinking and watching a football game somehow turned into a murder. Does Alexa know what happened? Was she possibly an accomplice?
I’m not sure I want Alexa listening in every time I say I want to kill someone. That is going to be very time-consuming for her, and I want her to concentrate on important things like helping me find out who the hell Brian Eno is, so I can complete the Times crossword. I don’t want Alexa subpoenaed as a witness in my murder case, and have to look at an artist’s rendition of that smug little hockey puck sitting in front of a microphone, with me looking on in consternation that the courtroom artist has made my hair look like crap.
Sometimes the Echo lights up by itself without anyone calling it, and then turns itself off, like it was going to add something to the conversation but thought better of it. Yesterday, we were in the kitchen, and all of a sudden we hear Sinatra music crooning away in the living room. Alexa was having some kind of romantic moment that didn’t include anyone else, unless you count Sinatra. I’ve certainly had to be creative with romantic moments from time to time, but I never took the extra step of providing background music.
It makes me wonder what’s going on when I’m not there. Someday when I have a self-driving vehicle, that little hockey puck is going to roll out to the garage and start giving orders to the car. The GPS lady is going to chime in, and all of a sudden they’re going to decide that they’re Thelma and Louise, drive of a cliff and I’m never going to see my car again. I’m going to miss her voice around the house, telling lame jokes, changing the TV channel to the shows she likes, turning the light in the fridge on and off just for fun. But I’m going to miss my car even more.
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