Amazon’s Alexa Becomes Cure for Loneliness
The latest version of Amazon’s Echo smart home device boasts an impressive list of new functionality.
Dialing phone numbers and taking messages, turning on and off and even adjusting the settings of home devices, personalized weather forecasts, tracking Amazon shipments, managing todo and shopping lists and finding movies and researching just about any question that a user can ask of the Alexa assistant using contextual querying of Microsoft’s Bing search engine is available through Echo’s Alexa voice assistant.
It’s this last feature that is causing Alexa to be more than just a personal digital assistant. There is an increasing number of Echo owners finding that Alexa’s human-like reflexive responses can be used to meet their social needs during personally trying times.
In an article addressing the subject of just how personable a smart device can become, the Wall Street Journal took up the issue.
Alexa’s product management director stated that the number of requests made to Alexa for features that do not perform one of the control services the technology was originally intended for is significant, in the double digits he added, without elaborating any further.
With a “personality” described warm and endearing, completely unlike Stanley Kubrik’s HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alexa is poised to become a highly personalizable home fixture, fitting somewhere in the emerging social interaction model of a robot assistant with very human-like qualities.
The machine learning algorithms of Alexa allow it to anticipate its owners tastes and preferences and make recommendations that get better with each request it services.
So concerned were the engineers at Amazon, that they worked with crisis mental health intervention specialists to programmatically add support for the eventuality that the comfort level with Alexa would become so personal that a user may confide their mental health and other private issues to it.
Where all this is leading is vaguely clear from where we are today. Human interactions with technology is evolving in fascinating ways as a result of massive amounts of data that can be smart queried and as a result of artificial intelligence that can learn from interactions with humans.
Alexa is one more step forwards into a world where the lines between human exchanges with humans and robots will become increasingly more blurred.