I have been curious about Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, purely from a tech perspective. Also it’s interesting to keep an eye on where AI is going. It’s easy to be cynical, because a piece of always-on hardware that ‘listens’ to everything going on in your home all day is well, a bit creepy.
Not that it worries millions of iPhone users who also have an AI agent, Siri, just waiting to be asked something. But these devices are prone to being hacked, besides invading one’s privacy. (I know of several people who have a sticker over the camera on their laptop lid, for good reason. Hey, Facebook’s Zuckerberg does!)
So a few days ago I tested Alexa in a friend’s home. He’s been using it a lot –he asks Alexa what’s the best route to work, and to play music off his playlist etc. I asked Alexa a simple question, “Alexa, How long will it take to get to the Moon?” Without missing a beat Alexa responded with an answer (3 days) qualifying it with something about development of rocketry. The next few questions a bit predictable, such as asking for the bio of a country singer, and to play some of Keith Urban’s music. When Alexa got stumped, it was probably my accent, or it did not get the context right.
But my friend says he asks Alexa to add items he will need in the store to his shopping cart, and picks up the list on his phone when he is in the store. He recently installed a smart thermostat so it is feasible that one day he could ask Alexa to change the temperature (and his wife could ask Alexa to change it back!) But as we brainstormed how it might change our lives I wondered, once the fascination (of talking to a piece of hardware) wears off, if we might find Artificial Intelligence too useful to ignore.
For instance, I would love to be able to ask Alexa or Google Home to:
- Forward my article to LMD magazine, but please change the last sentence to (and I could dictate it). It would save me from logging back onto the computer, and opening my email etc.
- Send a Text alert to my friend in Worcester (whose phone number I have forgotten) about an upcoming event
- Buy a copy of a (name title of book) from Amazon, use Prime, and pay for it with my gift card, not a credit card.
- Print a copy of my recent Lesson Plan on a black-and-white printer, double-sided, on Monday morning by the time I get to school
Will that day come soon? Are we there now? Is this too much information to be put out there in the cloud? Will Keith Urban send my daughter an autographed T-shirt? Just kidding!