On my birthday a few days ago (I just turned 49), my Dad handed me a little package and said, "This is actually from your Mother..." Since my Mom just passed away a couple months ago, this statement was surprising, and not a little intriguing. So I opened the wrapping, and inside was an Amazon Echo Dot, that little hockey puck-sized gadget that connects you to Alexa, Amazon's AI interface. Google makes something similar, and Windows 10 comes with Cortana, a similar AI. And of course everyone knows about Siri, Apple's famous AI interface.
So what is life with Alexa like? Well, right now I'm listening to some soothing music from Enya. If I get curious about the weather as I type this, I can ask Alexa what the weather is like. (Or I can step outside, but why would I want to do that?) I can ask her what's on my calendar today (nothing for the rest of the day). Or I can ask her to tell me a haiku or a limerick, or sing me a song, or even beatbox. Those are just a few of the funny little things she can do.
I've just noticed how I refer to Alexa as "she." Of course I know that the voice I'm hearing is merely an audio version of a computer interface, but it's kind of amazing how we as humans react to a voice, rather than words on a computer screen. My mind just naturally responds to "her" in a way that is not unlike how I would respond to a human being. Is that a useful thing, or is it alarming? I'm reminded of HAL from the Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how chilling it is to hear the computer say, "I can't do that, Dave." Is it less chilling to hear a soothing female voice than to hear that soothing, slightly creepy voice of HAL? I guess it is, but why?
I also think sometimes about what my reaction would have been as a kid, if someone were to come from today and show me Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. It would seem like the same kind of sci-fi that the Kubrick film (and the Arthur C. Clarke novel it was based on). But so would cellphones, streaming video, and many of the other little gadgets we take for granted every single day.
As time goes on, will I use the Echo Dot more often, or will it outlive its charm? It's hard to tell right now. But at the moment, it's really fun to have it on my nightstand, listening to everything I say...
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)