Alexa makes our family life so full of music and fun.
At any moment, one of my daughters might ask one of Amazon’s artificial intelligence devices to play a favorite song, and our kitchen turns into a dance party. Or maybe they’ll ask Alexa to sing them a song or tell them a joke.
We’ve had one for about a year, and it was a fun little device we used a few times a day as a music player. In 2018, though, we’ve upped our game.
Over the holidays, we upgraded from an Echo speaker downstairs and a Dot device upstairs to a device in nearly ever room of our house (bathrooms excluded, thankfully). That includes a Show, the fancy device that has a screen and a camera on it that literally changed the way our kids do their homework.
Our kids get home from school a little earlier than their parents do from our jobs, and it’s always frustrated us they weren’t trying to do some homework before we got home, to get the easy stuff out of the way and identify where they need help.
We’d tried the telephone in the past. We can’t hear when our children are lying to us about working on their homework.
Via the Show, now we know. We can look around our kitchen, where they like to do their homework, and look right at the table by “dropping in” from our mobile phones. It’s much easier to see what’s going on, or more accurately what’s not happening.
This ability to drop into a room is why there’s one in nearly every room. Instead of playing hide-and-seek when we’re getting ready to sit down for dinner, it’s so much easier to virtually hop into the correct room and rouse the child. ‘
It’s equally helpful when you hear crying from across the house — an all-too-common occurrence unfortunately in a house full of girls — and can figure out whether the injury is physical or emotional.
We’ve gotten a few steps into automation too. We can turn off the TV in the little girls’ room or the kitchen by just telling the glowing blue circle on a shelf.
And to me, that’s all it is, a technological marvel but certainly not a person. My kids disagree. Despite my use of the pronoun “it,” they prefer “her.” They play games with her. They sing songs with her. Our oldest has even found a chat app on it where she can talk to her like a friend. (I’m sure the government won’t find a use for that.)
Some people have too high of expectations for Alexa, though. The 3- and 4-year-old girls recently asked Alexa to make the weather warmer. Then again, they called my wife Alexa when they wanted her to do something for them too.
It is nice having one female in the house who listens to me, though. If you ask it if it loves you, it responds there are people it admires and things it can’t do without, but it can’t figure out human love. Come to think of it, that’s sort of how I feel about Alexa too.
These devices can make you lazy too. My wife seldom climbs the stairs anymore, since she knows she can summon one of us to bring her something via Alexa. I caught one of my daughters relying on Alexa to do help her on some multiplication homework. I responded the most Alexa way possible, sending her a message for Alexa to read to her about how Alexa shouldn’t be cheating for her.
It’s a fun technology, as long as it doesn’t make life too easy. Say, Alexa, write my column for me.
“I’m not quite sure how to help you with that,” it answered.
There are some things you still need a real person to do.