What was your first thought when you saw (and heard) the Amazon Alexa?
Amazon’s personal assistant gizmo the Alexa Echo was released nearly two years ago and I admit that I dismissed it offhand. I thought the voice recognition wouldn’t be sophisticated enough to be useful, and that the cost of setting up a ‘smart home’ would be money wasted- I would forget to use it or it would be unreliable.
What would the long term consequences be if I didn’t have to touch light switches, plugs and on/off buttons? Would I still take as much care of my possessions? Would I feel more or less in control?
Scenes from Spike Jonze’s Her flashed into my mind and I worried that, despite a lot of cautious talk about AI and automation, we still didn’t really know what we were dealing with?
My boyfriend, however, was just excited about the whole thing.
He saw the Alexa as a clever tool for all kinds of small tasks. And he pointed out that I always argue for the wider use of technology, which is true. As a secondary school teacher, I saw that technology can have positive effects on learning and development, it just requires guidelines on how and when to use it. Technology isn’t good or bad, it’s the way we use it that matters.
This is how, by using my own arguments against me, my boyfriend won and we bought an Alexa Dot. The Dot has been living on our stereo for a month now and I’m happy to confess that I was wrong!
Rather than losing its novelty, it’s only felt more useful and fun as we get used to it. Of course, there is room for improvement- Alexa doesn’t always recognise the artist names when you want to play music… we’ve listened to an unexpected amount of bag pipe music recently. And there’s no way yet to fast forward or rewind through a podcast, although I’m convinced someone is working on this in their shared workspace right now.
It feels, for the first time since the first iPhone, like being an excited early adopter of an intriguing new technology, eager to see how it will develop.
So here are our current top 10 reasons for buying one:
- You can check the weather before you leave the house
- You can set (and snooze) an alarm by barely moving a muscle
- You can play podcasts through Tune In, AnyPod or Spotify
- You can play music, and all of your painstakingly crafted playlists, through Spotify
- You can get a daily news briefing
- You can convert measurements from befuddling imperial into logical metric for recipes
- You ask for local film screening times
- You can check facts- useful during an argument over the population size of Canada
- You can ask for jokes and quiz questions
- You can set a timer for your pizza! No more burned crust!
I’m not sure how smart homes will affect the iGeneration as these devices become interwoven into our lives, but I’m sure, as with most issues, that any negative consequences can be dealt with through proactive, open-minded education at home and at school.
For us, the next big thing will be buying a couple of smart bulbs and Wifi plugs so that we can turn our home into a fully connected unit that we can control through Alexa. I can’t wait to be able to lie in bed and tell Alexa to turn the lights off!
What new technology have you tried recently? Any stories or recommendations?