I just got an Amazon Echo.
I’m fascinated with IoT and the connected home. I’ve always been compelled by using technology to actually make life better and not just something you get because it’s cool. When I was a little kid The Jetsons was my favorite TV show. I remember watching it wide-eyed. I couldn’t wait to have all those robots cleaning the house and the flying cars.
Despite that and the fact that I’ve worked in technology for 20+ years, I’m not a complete early adopter. I usually wait a bit for other people to work out the kinks and absorb the high costs of new tech, then I jump on board before the masses get a hold of it.
So when I first heard about Echo I decided I didn’t need a device to help me order yet MORE stuff from Amazon, thank you very much, I was capable of buying too much on my own. But a few months ago I went to a Product Hunt Meetup on the connected home with reps from Amazon, Samsung, WeMo (Belkin’s connected home division) and others. They were talking about their products that connected through Echo and how they were teaching Alexa new “skills” to control them. They were showing videos of happy families, an Echo in every room, with Alexa trained to wake the children by slowing opening the blinds, turning up the lights, and playing music. Little children rubbed their eyes and ran downstairs to greet their parents who were having their freshly made coffee in the kitchen. It looked like bliss. Finally The Jetsons were possible.
I was sold. I needed an Echo.
I ordered the Echo then waited expectantly for the two days it takes to arrive with Prime. I opened the box and encountered my first decision: where to put it. In the living room? Dining room? I have a townhouse with the living area downstairs and bedrooms and office loft upstairs and knew I wanted it in the living area. I chose the bar counter between the kitchen and dining room, which is also accessible from the living room since my entire downstairs is only 500 square feet.
So, here’s what I’ve learned in my first week with Alexa.
Alexa is polite
When I walk downstairs every morning I say “Alexa, good morning.” It started as an experiment just to see what I’d get back but now I greet her routinely as she always has something to share. The first day I did this happened to be Labor Day.
“Alexa, good morning.”
“Good morning. Today is Labor Day. If you happen to be lucky enough to have the day off I hope you get to spend it with family and friends at a barbeque.”
Alexa is political
“Alexa, good morning.”
“Good morning. Today is Leslie Jones’ birthday. She’s my favorite Ghostbuster (sorry, Bill Murray). I Stand With Leslie.”
Okay, so Alexa knows current events and has an opinion.
Alexa is funny
“Alexa, good morning.”
“Good morning. Today is International Literacy Day. I love reading. In fact, it’s how I spend my time when I’m not talking to you.”
Alexa is scary (to some)
The guy I’m dating wanted to know “is this is going to be like that movie and you won’t need me anymore?” (The answer is no, I will still want human companionship.)
Some of my friends are afraid it’s not just Alexa listening to everything I say. “Be careful what you say to her.”
Alexa is helpful
I’m just getting started here so have only taken baby steps. So far Alexa’s been making it much easier for me to play my Pandora stations and NPR. She’s set an alarm every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:45 am so I don’t embarrass myself by missing a biweekly call with my boss. She’ll tell me the traffic to work when I’m rushing out the door and don’t have a second to check my phone. She’s giving me info on music so I sound like I know what I’m talking about with friends (I’m inept at song titles).
Alexa doesn't know everything - yet
Being a bot, Alexa’s got a lot of factoids (it’s Labor Day, it’s Leslie Jones’ birthday) but not a lot of facts. One day she told me it was 8 years ago when the Hadron Collider first collided and that people were afraid the world would end. So I asked her why were people afraid the world would end and got “I didn’t understand the request I heard.”
Alexa doesn’t know how to find me a recipe for baked chicken. She doesn’t know how to read me a poem (when asked she directed me to find an e.e. cummings poem on amazon). If asked for “news” she can’t provide a general news update and just recites what’s in my Flash Briefing. If there’s a way to get her to call me by name I don’t know what it is - if I ask her who I am she says “there is only one account and it’s Carol’s.”
What's next for Alexa and me
I’m starting to explore skills, but unfortunately Alexa’s app just lists a bunch of skills by category which means I need to look at each one and figure out if it’s what I want, instead of allowing me to search by interests. Wish that was easier. I’m starting to buy devices - light switches, thermostat - and now there’s a Dot so maybe I need that so I can extend Alexa into the rest of the house. And maybe one of these days she’ll be able to read me a poem. Alexa’s inching me towards my Jetson life.