Alexa – take a hike
Amazon Echo and Google Home – here’s my prediction about these smart speakers. In 25 years, we’ll look at film clips or ads that featured the “cool things” that these devices did – and we’ll laugh. We’ll laugh the same way we laugh today about news clips from the 1990s that described the wonder of the new “internet.”
This CNN clip from 1993 is a great example of futurist hype about the internet and includes a (very wrong) prediction that if the internet keeps growing, there could be a day that school children come home and spend more time on the online Encyclopedia Britannica than playing Nintendo.
It’s not that today’s smart speakers aren’t an important step forward in the personal use of artificial intelligence – they are, just as the early internet was a necessary step toward the information access we enjoy today. The issue is that their usefulness at this stage is more for novelty than for actual functionality.
Limited range of features
Yes, the Amazon Echo and Google Home can get weather reports, answer basic questions, order pizza, and play music – all with voice commands. The issue is that your smartphone can do those things too. And while TV commercials tout several other amazing features (turning on lights, locking doors, turning up the heat), you’ll need to spend some money to allow for automated lights, locks and thermostats.
And are we really that taxed – or have our arms full that often – that we can’t flick a switch or turn a dial? I don’t think so, which is why for me these devices are novelties only.
More features are being added of course. The print edition of the Sunday New York Times in early January had several sections scattered throughout the paper advertising the new ways you could connect with the paper using Alexa. But these features are less about helping us, and more about a newspaper trying to find new ways to connect to more readers/listeners.
More to come
Something of use will evolve from these early smart speakers – eventually. I just don’t think we’re close at this stage. Even for seniors – who often have more limited mobility or other disabilities – the Echo and Home are a mixed bag. It takes a reasonably sharp mind to interact with AI-driven devices, and pairing new technology with individuals who have trouble remembering the right trigger word, or the range of tasks a device can perform, can often lead to frustration and devices collecting dust in the corner.
So, by all means have fun with the technology – the price point is right. But until the features get a bit more jaw-dropping, Alexa won’t be entering my home anytime soon. (Sorry girls!)
Thanks for reading,