Arguing with Alexa

by | Jul 2, 2020 | Living in the Future | 0 comments

I don’t know exactly when the future got here; probably around the time smartphones became ubiquitous—definitely after widespread internet became normal. But if you want proof positive that we are now living in the active era of science fiction, look no farther than arguing with Amazon’s little in-house spy.

My wife and I have smartified our house with a mixture of Amazon and Google technology. The heat, the lights, the doorbell, it’s all tied together in a messy amalgam of apps that lurk in the background of our daily lives. By and large, Google does a pretty good job of keeping its voice interactions basic and functional. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t really pretend to be.

Enter Alexa.

Alexa is sure she’s smarter than you. Alexa is always listening. We actually had to change our wake word for it because it had a hair-trigger for assuming we were addressing it and responding with inane gibberish.

Us: “Those sandwiches were all excellent.”

Alexa: “Ents are a race of beings in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world Middle-earth who closely resemble trees.”

Us: “What did your mom want?”

“I’ll ask her when I call her later.”

Alexa: “There is no calendar entry for that.”

So, we went the Wil Wheaton route and decided to call it Computer. It’s very thematic, feels Star-Trekky, less prone to mishearing.

Super.

Right?

Well, except that “computer” is an actual word that occasionally comes up in casual speech.

Us: “Do you have a spare computer power cord?”

Alexa: “A power chord is a colloquial name for a chord in guitar music, especially electric guitar, that consists of the root note and the fifth, as well as possibly octaves of those notes.”

Us: “You going to be on the computer all day?”

Alexa: “Playing All Day, by Kanye West on Amazon Music”

Us: “Computer, stop music!”

Voice communication is a wonderful thing when it works. I don’t need to go downstairs to shut off a light I left on at bedtime. We can turn on the outside lights when takeout drivers are on the way. We can set cooking timers, listen to XM Radio, get answers to random questions, and more, all just by speaking aloud and enunciating clearly.

But it does get nitpicky at times. Alexa, in particular, is somewhat prim about what inputs it will accept.

Us: “Computer, turn off Master Bedroom lights.”

Alexa: “There are a few things that share the name bedroom lights. Which one did you mean?”

Us: “Master bedroom lights.”

Alexa: “There are a few things that share the name bedroom lights. Which one did you mean?”

Us: *Khan scream*

Also, just a word of advice: If you’re going to change your wake word to Computer, and you’re planning to actually watch Star Trek (anything beside TOS), it’s a good idea to mute your Alexa pucks.

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