“Alexa, play John Coltrane.”
“Alexa, what is the weather like tomorrow?”
“Alexa, what’s today’s news?”
Two weeks ago, an Amazon Echo came into my possession. I had seen this device on the internet, and though I was somewhat interested in this voice-activated speaker and internet-connected device, $180 seemed a little steep. After all, voice activation technology is not new: I have been using Siri to play music from my phone and Google to search the web for at least a year.
However, after a couple of weeks with this device, I have to say that this black cylinder is offering a fresh and addictive experience. What’s more, both my own grade school children and my high school students just love it.
The big difference between “Alexa” (the name you use to ‘wake up’ the Amazon Echo) and other current voice activation technologies is that Alexa really is hands-free. The cylinder sits in your kitchen/ living room/ classroom, and when you want something, you just say “Alexa” and then speak your request. You don’t need to press any button, turn it on, or search for a remote control. However, my iPhone 6 with iOS 9 does now have this technology for Siri but only when the phone is charging.
For now, the cylinder sits in the kitchen, and when we arrive home, Alexa will play music on request, answer questions, and even turn on and off our WeMo connected lights. The sound from this device is at least as good as higher end Bluetooth speakers, and Alexa will answer probing questions to the amusement of my children. In fact, the fifty or so people whom I have seen interact with this device have all delighted in even asking Alexa to turn the music up.
This is a great device for right now in late October 2015 (game 3 of the World Series), but every other device is going to catch up really quickly. In fact, the iPhone 6s already has this technology, and according to this New York Times article, this “ambient computing” is the future and the defining feature of Apple’s newest phone.
So, the future’s name may not actually be “Alexa”, but for right now, this innovative device is paving the way to “a future in which robotic assistants are always on hand to answer questions, take notes, take orders or otherwise function as auxiliary brains to whom you might offload many of your chores” (Manjoo).
Manjoo, Farhad. “iPhone 6s’s Hands-Free Siri Is an Omen of the Future”. The New York Times. New York. Sept. 22, 2015. Web. October 30, 2015.