Alexa Is Kind of Sexy But She’s the Equivalent of a Really Dumb Blonde

My wife Jean is a techie—she has all the popular devices from Apple and Amazon—and on Amazon Prime Day she couldn’t resist buying the Amazon Echo for $90, half the regular price. The tall black cylinder speaker answers to the name Alexa and you can ask her questions. Alexa, what’s the weather forecast today? And she answers.

Alexa now sits on our kitchen counter and mealtime conversations are interrupted by Jean deciding to ask Alexa something. Alexa, what are the chances of President Trump not finishing his term? It’s having a third person at the table.

Seeing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos first take over the Washington Post and then buy Whole Foods, my first reaction was is this sweet-talking woman part of the Bezos plot to take over everything in our lives? Will she encourage Jean to read the Washington Post, shop at Whole Foods, and buy her books through Amazon?

Some questions for Alexa:

Alexa, where can I buy a copy of the Washington Post?

Sorry, I don’t know that one.

Alexa, where can I buy a copy of the New York Times?

Sorry, I don’t know that one.

Alexa, where can I buy a copy of the Wall Street Journal?

Based on your zip code settings, I found a Wall Street Journal nearby. It’s 7 miles away on Connecticut Avenue Northwest in Washington. Business hours for this location are not available.

Alexa, where is the nearest supermarket?

Based on your zip code settings, here are few nearby popular ones: Pescadeli, Giant Food, Safeway, and Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative.

Alexa, where is the nearest Whole Foods market?

Based on your zip code settings, I found a Whole Foods Market Group nearby. It’s five miles away on Fenton Street in Silver Spring.

Alexa, where is the nearest Giant Food store?

Based on your zip code settings, I found a Safeway Food & Drug nearby. It’s 7 miles away on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda.

Alexa, where is the nearest bookstore?
Based on your zip code settings, here are a few nearby popular ones: Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Be With Me—The Playseum, Sunrise News Stand, and Tempo Bookstore.

Alexa, where can I buy a copy of the book Camino Island by John Grisham?

I don’t see a book titled Camino Island in your library. To find audiobooks visit audible.com.
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Alexa, for all her sleekness, is really dumb on anything but the simplest questions and she’s not yet programmed to propagandize for her master. The little specific advice she offered wasn’t up-to-date, accurate, or helpful and there was no bias in favor of other parts of the Bezos empire.

It’ll be interesting to see how Alexa evolves. Bezos is relentless and smart, and once Alexa settles in as the third person at our kitchen table, as Jean seems to think she will, will she soon start our day by telling us what we should be reading in the Washington Post, what’s on sale at Whole Foods, and what books and videos are hot on Amazon?

In the meantime, there is an increasing possibility of a digital divorce.

Comments

  1. Paul Dickson says:

    So, Jack, try this experiment. Invite a kid in from the neighborhood and let him or her take a spin. Alexa what is the square root of 12,416? Alexa what is weight of the moon? How many Presidents have been Freemasons? This the homework machine to beat all homework machines. Also for me: “Alexa Play Miles Davis.” And my favorite: “Alexa, flip a coin.”

  2. As for the question about the chances of President Trump finishing his term, Alexa answered, “It sounds like you’re asking about President Donald Trump. Fox News reports that Trump tweeted, in support of his son, that most people would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. did in order to get information on an opponent.”

  3. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    Dear Jack,

    There is only one way that I know of to ameliorate this intrusion of electronic intelligence into the romance of one’s life: Teach it what it needs to know about how not to annoy and anger you with its mindless stupidity.

    Instruct it as follows:

    Do not respond to any questions or requests by me and anyone else between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.on weekdays and 6 a.m. to noon on weekends.

    Do not answer questions that begin with, “What do you think . . ”

    Have fun by trying to teach it to ask good questions. (Good luck.)

    Use it as a juke box and charge a dollar per play, to be put toward Champagne and caviar which the gizmo cannot share. .

    Forbid it from answering your telephones.

    Put it to bed, with only emergency recall, from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m.

    Unless you are one of those people who name their computer mouse, don’t call it by a pet name.

    Treat it with the patience and consideration you give to busy children because it is your cylindrical issue.

    Non-electronic life is so quaint and weird.

    Barney

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