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AI’s “Alexa” Rules the Roost

February 20, 2019

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I kicked off the New Year by writing about Artificial Intelligence (AI). To read this blog CLICK HERE. Now I’d like to dig deeper into this subject by taking a look at “Alexa” – a name I really like because I have a cute five-year-old relative with that name. Here are the pertinent points about Alexa as described by Amazon.

POINT ONE

The technology company has a feature called ALEXA HUNCHES that according to them “aims to replicate human curiosity and insight using artificial intelligence.” Or, said in me-to-you English, Alexa can now guess what you might be thinking of – or what you’ve forgotten. “We’ve reached a point with deep neural networks and machine learning that we can actually program intuition,” says Daniel Rausch, the VP in charge of Alexa’s smart home features.

POINT TWO

Once it is activated, Alexa Hunches will observe its owners’ interactions with connected smart home devices such as locks and lights. For example: When Alexa believes it has detected a regular pattern, such as turning off the TV before going to bed, it will remind you if you have forgotten to do so and offer to fix the problem. Hello? This is a problem?

POINT THREE

“The next step for Alexa,” says Toni Reid, the Amazon VP in charge of the Alexa experience “is to make the AI assistant feel more human. Our ‘hunches’ both lengthen and deepen customer interaction. Alexa is getting better at sustaining longer conversations. It can also respond to whispered commands by whispering itself. It will also have a ‘Guard Mode’ to warn owners if it hears something suspicious while they are away from home – such as the sound of breaking glass or a smoke alarm.”

POINT FOUR

Are you still with me? We’re getting there – here’s the downside with today’s smart home systems: they’re actually pretty dumb. Many require technical expertise to set up and program and are prone to glitches. Amazon wants to make Alexa a user-friendly gateway to simplify and secure the process. Okay, at this point I think we need to inject a little humor into this write-up.

Five-year-old Alexa is much cuter than “Alexa” and its devices

A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE of Google’s Home assistant as reported by Nathan Brooker in the 9/30/18 issue of The Financial Times. It’s early morning and he says, “Hey Google, play Radio Four.” The small, pebble-shaped thing remains silent so he repeats, “Google, play Radio F.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to help you with that,” it says. “But it does,” Brooker reports. “It replays Radio Four six days a week. ‘It’s a morning routine,’ I shout at the Google Home assistant and then I shout even louder at the Today program. It won’t budge. It just looks at me with its four cold, white dots.” “I don’t know how to help you with that,” it says smugly.

Then Cool Girlfriend walks into the kitchen and says, “Google, play Radio Four” as she steals a piece of toast off Brooker’s plate and walks out. Google replies, “Sure. Playing BBC Radio Four.” He calls this incident “tech hostility” -- I call it “tech humor.”

FIRST UPDATE: On 12/27/18 the New York Post reported that ALEXA TOOK XMAS OFF. Thousands of folks across Europe couldn’t play holiday songs or turn on their living room lights. The voice-controlled AI personal assistant crashed in Britain around 10 am. Word on the street is this: the outage happened when Amazon servers were over-burdened by all the newly gifted devices being registered. Alexa had a HISSY FIT!

SECOND UPDATE: On 1/11/19 the New York Post reported that CES (now the official name of the Consumer  Electronics Show) held in Las Vegas every January has a few surprises, namely: “ALEXA, GOOGLE, MAKE ME DINNER” OR “HEY, GOOGLE RINSE ME OFF” – what’s next?

Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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