This is about a, ah, conversation, for want of a better term, which we had with our bedroom ‘Alexa”:device this morning. (Don’t bother telling me I don’t know what a “bot” is, I’m already aware.) Anyway my BMD started deviling “her”.
Q. Alexa are you female?
A. I’m artificially intelligent and I have no sex.
Q. Alexa are you politically correct?
A. People have many different opinions and political ideas.
Q. Alexa are you a Mormon?
A. People believe in many religions.
Note the last two answers: why didn’t she say, “I’m not a person , so I don’t have political opinions / religious beliefs”?
He asked her if she could speak in a male voice. “H’mmm…sorry, I’m not sure how to help you with that.” She replied. It occurred to me that this technology never coulda invaded so many homes if it did use a masculine voice. That woulda reminded us all of the computer in 2001 (the movie) or of the omnipresent paternal voice in The Giver or THe Day The Earth Stood Still. Big Brother: too obvious; Big Sister…well, she’s like a telephone operator or a receptionist, or the patient, deferential and always obliging computer on the original Star Trek.
The female voice seems less threatening; we’re used to women being in the “helping” professions. A female voice asking “May I help you?” means “I’m at your service”; a male voice asking that has overtones of “What do you think you’re doing here?” I hafta say, my impulse while my BMD was indulging in this interrogation was to say,”Oh, stop teasing her!” as though she might start broadcasting a simulation of sobbing sounds….
Left to myself, I wouldnta invited her in. I was happy with the antiquated technology of playing the radio or a CD when I wanted music, blipping on Fox for news or the market report. And I desperately wish I had never had to abandon my old flip phone, which wasn’t connected to the Internet and couldn’t track my every move. But technological innovation isn’t my bailiwick in our household. In fact, I’m totally dependent on my BMD for anything at all to do with it. He presented me with this iPad ( or its ancestor; not sure how many I’ve had so far..) and with my new phone and its successors. How he got them to work is waaaaay beyond me. I’m addicted to using them, it’s like with my car: if it stops working I have no clue what to do. He is my AAA in such circumstances.
Kinda like me, Alexa seems to get her general knowledge from Wikipedia. That’s ok with me. I like that much-ridiculed source: within seconds, everybody can know the first thing about anything!
Well, she’s here to stay, in our bedroom and our living room, until she’s superseded by some superior, by which I mean even more independently invasive, technology. (Because my BMD will get and install any such thing as soon as it omes out-he cant resist!)
I also learned in this morning’s session that she can play relaxation sounds. Why do those always have to do with water? Sump’n about the amniotic fluid?
I think what this morning reminded me of was some sci-fi trope we used to see, where a human argues with a computer and eventually presents it with some conundrum it can’t process, usually because of its complete illogicality, so the computer drones something like “Does…not …compute..”; its electronic vital sounds fade out, it’s array of twinkling lights wink out one by one…the human wins!
Could that still happen? Could it ever have happened?