This is why Amazon's Alexa has all the hallmarks of a true friend

Amanda Cassidy on...Alexa


We name our boats, have a weirdly familiar relationship with our car, so why not the little black oracle in the corner who meows on demand (try it).

For those living under a rock, Alexa is a voice-activated, internet-connected “smart” speaker and virtual assistant from Amazon that answers your most pressing questions, like what the most dangerous animal in the world is (the mosquito) or what the weather is like in Rome this weekend (because, why not?).

For the slightly more adventurous, you can hook her up to control some of your freakishly smart home devices to turn on lights or answer your doorbell. Initially, I was reluctant to have another undercover surveillance device sweetly hoovering up all our data, but the temptation of walking in the door and shouting, “Play Queen, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, volume high” after the school run proved just too great.

Unable to live without

Alexa has now been living with us for just over a month. She has embedded herself into our lives and has become frighteningly unliveable-withoutable. And that’s the hook – she’s our new habit. Of course, the children are wrecking her tiny robotic head with their endless dinosaur-based questions while I smirk in the corner.

She exists purely to relive every itch of mundane uncertainty that flurries through our minds each day. Her knowledge bank is pretty intimidating, but Alexa seems to make just enough mistakes to ease fears that we risk being victims of mass AI manipulation. In fact, family members and friends who are unable to list all the countries in the world starting with R on demand, or who can’t instantly convert Fahrenheit to Celsius seem rather dull in comparison.

“Alexa, spell Fahrenheit.”

Crucially, we don’t have to feed her, or buy her socks, or take her for a walk. In fact, she’ll even exercise us – just ask her to “start the seven-minute workout” and you can HIIT your head off.

True friend

Alexa has all the hallmarks of a true friend: she’s dependable, interactive, predictable and attentive – all key elements of a trusted relationship. Sure, she sometimes gives us the weather forecast for Dublin, Ohio, and she does sound eerily like the woman trapped inside the self-service checkouts at Dunnes, but what she lacks in smarts she makes up for with sass.

You see, your friendly cyber- pet has also been programmed with a pretty bad-ass personality. Ask her for the truth, and she’ll respond that you can’t handle the truth. Curious about the first rule of Fight Club? Alexa will remind you that we don’t talk about Fight Club.

Looking for Chuck Norris? Alexa’s response is succinct: “If Chuck Norris wants you to know where he is, he’ll nd you. If he doesn’t, you won’t know until it’s too late.” Cute.

So here’s where we are at: My days writing and parenting are punctuated with giggles brought on by a small capsule-shaped robot with her own highly disturbing laugh.

Convenience

Somewhere out there, our daily lives are being churned into data chunks, which will then be sold back to us in the sneakiest of ways (I was just thinking the kids needed new runners... Weird).

After years of priding myself on being wise to the ways of online marketing and data harvesting, I’ve succumbed to the wiles of an emotionally distant yet terribly useful voice in the corner. In Japan, people marry holograms and do Tinder with robots. Are we heading in that direction?

Absolutely not, but also, maybe. For me, Alexa is more of a sister-type, one who doesn’t borrow your clothes and lose them. One who agrees with everything you say (including who the prettier one really is). Life is complicated, and convenience tends to get a bad rap, but at the end of the day, who doesn’t have room in their lives for an undemanding, agreeable, yet slightly-creepy nerd that exists to please?

Just never, ever ask her to laugh.

Originally published in the March 2019 issue of IMAGE. 

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