I have three Amazon Echo Dot devices in my home, which is kind of an ironic admission to make at the start of a rant about new devices from the tech giant. Oh well, I don’t make excuses for what the grandparents send to my kids, or the free stuff that ends up on my desk.
There may have been a point in the last few years where I thought voice-integrated stuff sounded like a cool idea. I introduced my son to Alexa and actually reveled in my freedom from his homework as he turned to her instead of me for the answer to “What’s 9×9?” or whatever. But these days the devices have fallen mostly silent.
There’s one in the kitchen that rarely gets used, except to tell us what we can see out the windows: today’s weather in Seattle. My son still uses his to fall asleep to the exact same baby whale noises every single night — I’m haunted by squeaking whales. A third Dot, on my bedside table, is used as an alarm most mornings — and probably as a way for Jeff Bezos to know what noises I make when I sleep.
Beyond those uses, Alexa in our house has been mostly asked to make cat and fart noises. Welcome to the future.
Thursday’s reveal of new Echo devices to make our homes and cars even smarter doesn’t necessarily come across as completely dumb to me. Voice-driven artificial intelligence is not dumb, and certainly has valuable applications, especially for users who rely on mobility and accessibility assistance.
But not wanting to lift your finger to press two buttons on a microwave, purely for the sake of some contrived convenience, seems more like lazy home than smart home. Sitting in the GeekWire office right now, eight feet from a perfectly fine, working microwave that heats food and bad coffee daily, a colleague just said, “We need one of those.” I asked why. “It would be fun!”
This is my problem with so many of these devices — whether they rely on us to stop talking to one another or want us to stop getting off our asses to use a simple appliance — they’re not necessary.
Amazon’s press release for the Echo Plus says that it “now includes an embedded temperature sensor, so you can set temperature-based routines using other smart home devices.” If your living room reaches 80 degrees, Amazon says, Alexa can send a notification to your phone and turn on a connected fan.
Ah, temperature. And fans. If only there had been a way to determine an uncomfortable level of cold or heat before the Echo Plus learned to understand all of our “temperature-based routines.” How did humans find the time or energy to move across a room and hit a switch before Thursday?
For those who talk to Alexa rather than their sleeping wives, “Whisper Mode” is a new feature that … *shhhhh* … allows you to whisper to Alexa, and she will whisper her response back to you … to turn off an alarm or get the morning weather.
There are big, loud, messy problems in this country and across the world and a nearly trillion-dollar tech behemoth is worried about waking someone up if it makes too much noise telling us it’s raining.
I want to shout right now.