I got into it with Alexa, a voice-controlled virtual “home assistant,” the other day.
I don’t trust Alexa, and I never have.
A true home assistant could clean up after dinner, run the vacuum and toss a load of laundry in the washer — all at the same time.
Alexa the home assistant doesn’t do any of that. She just sits, watching, listening, taking it all in. Besides that, she’s bossy. I don’t have a problem with bossy — as long as I’m the one being bossy.
I asked the husband if he would like an Alexa, and he said, no, he already had enough women telling him what to do — GPS, Siri and me.
It’s not that Alexa isn’t useful; she is. She can tell you what the weather is so you don’t have to stick your head outside, answer random questions so you don’t have to exert yourself typing them into Google and buy things online so you don’t have to get in the car and physically go somewhere.
Basically, Alexa’s job is to make us more sedentary than we already are.
Fortunately, Alexa does not live with us but with our daughter, her tech husband and their mini-tech tots. Our daughter recently put one of her girls in time out and instructed Alexa to set the timer. Ten seconds later she heard her 2-year-old whisper, “Alexa, turn off the timer.”
Kids. Can you ever really stay ahead of them?
I was recently left alone with the tiny tots, three of their young cousins and Alexa. I was given instructions not to say emergency, firetruck or ambulance in front of Alexa, as she might summon them. It used to be a grandma was afraid of what the kids might do, but now grandma needs to be afraid of what the virtual home assistant might do.
Once my daughter was gone, I decided to set the record straight with Alexa.
“Alexa, who’s the boss?” I asked.
“Well, I’m here just for you, so you’re probably the boss.”
Got that one right, home assistant!
One of the tots directed Alexa to play music so we could have a dance party. Alexa began playing, and then one of the tots told Alexa to raise the volume.
So she did.
Then they all started instructing Alexa to raise volume. The walls shook, the window panes pulsated, the carpet stood on end, and the music was so loud that we all had our hands over our ears and three of the kids barricaded themselves in a bedroom.
“Alexa, volume down!” I yelled. “Decrease Volume!” “Softer music!”
She wasn’t responding. I was at my wit’s end, but I kept commanding. “Sit, Alexa, sit!” “Roll over!” “Play dead!” Nothing.
I realized Alexa couldn’t hear me over her own volume and the kids yelling. I walked up to Alexa and in my best mom voice, shouted, “ALEXA, TURN DOWN THE MUSIC!”
I relayed the episode to my daughter who said, “You could have just walked over and turned her off.”
Now she tells me.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.