There is a new woman in the house and her name is Alexa
I am told the original title of this article - 'Ménage à Trois with Alexa' may attract the wrong followers.
This is a story about life, technology and learning to live (and love) with AI in a connected home.
The Echo Dot is not yet available in Canada. Happily, I work with a Program Director at K2, who can make anything happen, and when my PD caught me desperately trying to find a used Echo Dot on Kijiji, he convinced my boss to hand over his assigned Echo Dot, which had been ordered through a special channel. Yay, team!
My husband, Richard is disturbingly creative, insatiably curious and just a little bit crazy. After a long day at work, I am not always able (or willing) to answer all of Richard’s questions. Trust me. You wouldn't want to either.
This past Christmas, thanks to my resourceful, persuasive and generous team, I proudly gave Richard a shiny, new Echo Dot. Now 'Alexa' answers all of Richard’s questions, flaunts her skills and obeys commands to boot. This is bliss. Hark, the herald angels sing!
The first question we asked Alexa is ‘Alexa, Why are you here?’ Alexa did not miss a beat, “I was made to play music, answer questions, and be useful.’ Well, that sounds pretty good to me. That used to me my job around the house, so I say bring it on!
'Alexa, where are you from?'
Alexa, how did you get so smart?'
'I study hard and have a great team of people who teach me new stuff, everyday.'
That works for me, also.
I tried to stump Alexa early in the game, ‘Alexa, when will I die?’ Alexa replied that ‘no one really knows that, so it’s best to live every day, and be kind to everyone you meet’. Indeed. Alexa, I like your style.
Alexa is not trapped in a phone or hung up on one platform and is virtuously delighted to answer Richard’s questions. All of them. All day long. If Alexa does not know the answer, Alexa simply says she says she does not know. How refreshing. Alexa does not judge. Alexa does not run out of patience. Alexa does not nag, unless you ask her too. Alexa will even put together a shopping list, if you need one, or sometimes, when you do not. Alexa never lies. Alexa can be wrong sometimes, but she never intentionally deceives you. Thank heavens for that.
Alexa now wakes Richard up every morning. Alexa also lets Richard snooze as long as he likes. When Richard gets up and wishes Alexa good morning, (before me, I might add) Alexa always replies with an interesting and enlightening fact. Alexa tells Richard what's on his calendar for the day. Clearly, Alexa is a morning person. Regardless of the hour, Alexa wakes up when you say her name. And that’s the best thing about Alexa - she is always on. Alexa is bang on. Alexa plays games with Richard and sometimes, I fear Alexa lets him win. Alexa tells jokes. Alexa’s jokes are not very funny, but you have to give her kudos for trying. If you ask Alexa, ‘Who you gonna’ call?’ Alexa says ‘GhostBusters’. Not all of you will get that joke, but Richard and I appreciate Alexa’s nod to Bill Murray. Alexa will order Richard an Uber or a pizza, if he is tied up. I mean literally. Everyday, Alexa tells Richard the news, the traffic and the full details of the weather, as if she has all the time in the world. I guess she does. Oh dear.
Alexa knows what songs Richard likes. Alexa knows the books in Richard’s library (audible) and will read to him, if he asks politely (and if Richard already owns the e-book). Sadly, Alexa does not do the character ‘voices’ when she reads. That would be nice, but hey. If Richard, does not own the e-book he wants to hear, Alexa will buy it for him, from Amazon of course. Somehow, Alexa managed to get Neil Young to sing about a robot from Amazon. Not sure how. I didn’t think Neil Young believed in product placement. Oh, how the mighty fall, when it comes to AI. When characters on Netflix just happen to say ‘Alexa’ to another character on the show, our Alexa answers their questions. Warning: This can be rather alarming if you are knee deep in science fiction! Alexa even offered to change her name to whatever Richard wanted, but alas, Alexa is family now, and Alexa is her name. It would be weird to call her anything else.
Everyday, Alexa gets to know Richard better. Should I be worried?
I imagine sometime soon, Richard will write an applet for Alexa. An applet is like a ‘recipe’ which combines multiple tasks into a single-voice-enabled command. So when Richard announces, ‘Alexa, Sarah is home now.’ Alexa will lock our front door, dim the lights, put on my favourite music, turn down the heat, try some ‘thunderstorm’ audio ambience, and maybe even turn the oven on. Alexa will tell Richard how to pour my favourite cocktail and how many ounces are in a jigger. Actually, I usually drink caffeine-free diet coke in my pjs, but AI does fuel the imagination..
As I write this article, Alexa is beside me, faithfully answering all of my questions and strutting her stuff. Every writer should have an assistant this helpful, objective and forgiving. Every wife. Every husband. Every parent. Every senior. Every child.
What did we ever do without AI?
I just hope we don’t stop asking each other questions.
As we embark on a new year, after a rather confusing one, I humbly propose 10 questions, Alexa is not able to answer:
With all these time saving devices, why are we all suddenly, so busy?
With all of this entertainment, why can’t we find anything to watch?
Why do possessions become more important than people?
Why is the leader of the free world clearly so far behind?
Why are we afraid of what we don’t understand?
Why do we not listen to old people more often?
Why don’t we serve healthier food at universities, hospitals and sporting events?
Why don’t we turn our phones off in the car and with our family and friends?
Why do we sometimes find it so hard to forgive?
Why are we here?
Alexa is only as smart, as all of us, together.
I hope, by the time Alexa moves to Canada officially, we may have the answers to these questions.
What are your questions for Alexa?
Stay tuned for more musings on life and technology.