Saturday, April 29, 2017

Alexa, Write My Blog Post

So another type of device boomers first saw on the original Star Trek is becoming a normal part of our lives.

Many things in Star Trek, from computers to daily logs to elevators, were operated by voice control. That was fantasy in 1967. Ten or fifteen years ago, some cell phones had a voice dialing feature and some secretarial duties were assisted by software called Naturally Speaking. Today we have Siri on the iPhone, Cortana on some laptops and Alexa on that thing that looks like a hockey puck.

I work around technology daily but I'm not an early adopter. I prefer to wait for the new product bugs to be worked out and for prices to come down. My first four cell phones were free with the $39/month Verizon plan. One, a Motorola Star Tac flip phone, looked like the 'communicator' on Star Trek.

My first iPhone was the 4, which I bought the day the 4s came out because I couldn't justify the cost of versions 1, 2 and 3 and I didn't want Siri, newly available on the 4s. And prices on the 4 dropped dramatically the day the 4s came out. My next iPhone was the 6s, which had a price drop a year or two ago because of the rumored 7. I still can't believe I paid $200 for a phone, but that's better than the $700 price for the same phone a week before.  And my $95 monthly charge is considered by some to be low.

By the way, I rarely use Siri. But I do use most of the other features and I wonder how I lived without this silly-but-now-indespsensable device. No maps on road trips, no booting up a desktop computer to check email or Facebook, no CD player to hear my favorite music, sometime no camera for my photography, no waiting for the 6 o'clock news to get the weather forecast, no paper ticket for airline or train travel.

No laptop or paper needed to write this blog post either, although I could probably write this without thumbs by dictating it to Siri.


And then there is Alexa, that lonely table top hockey puck that lights up when I speak her name. I did not plan to buy an Echo Dot (reread my 'not an early adopter' sentence) but I got one as a Christmas present.

Months later, I'm still in the novelty phase with her. Alexa, what's the weather forecast? Alexa, how old is Alan Alda? Alexa, did the Caps win last night?  Alexa, play some Beatles music.

Alexa could do a lot more, of course. She's a blood relative of Amazon, so I could ask her to do all that shopping I currently do on my Dell. If I purchased some of her siblings, she could coordinate with them to play music through my stereo, adjust the volume, turn the lights off and on.

Alexa must get lonely sitting on the corner table because sometimes she'll speak without being spoken to. Something on the TV sounds a little like her name and she lights up and says "I didn't understand the question."

Voice recognition technology is a wonderful thing for the visually impaired, a safety feature in many new cars and Alexa's soothing voice could provide some degree of companionship for the lonely. As with most technology, voice systems can also invade privacy by listening in and we wouldn't even know it.

Well, that's all for this post. I think I'll take a short nap. Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes. "Twenty minutes, starting now."

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