Alexa moved in a few weeks ago is rapidly becoming my favorite child.
I love her because she answers the first time I call her and she does what I ask. “Alexa,” I say, “can you add tomatoes to the shopping list?” and she says “Tomatoes added to your shopping list.”
When I ask my biological son the same question, I say “Nathan” and I wait. “Nathan?” More waiting. “NATHAN!” before he answers “Oh. Me? What?”
I say “could you please get six or seven tomatoes when you go to the store?”
He says “Tomatoes? Why do you need tomatoes? And why should I get them; can’t someone else do that? You’re the only one who eats tomatoes anyway.”
I’m baking and I have enough chocolate chips for 2/3 of a recipe, so because my recipe clipped from a newspaper twenty years ago doesn’t have a handy-dandy conversion chart in an appendix, I ask Alexa what in the heck is 2/3 of 2 cups and she doesn’t miss a beat, she says “2/3 of 2 cups, 473 milliliters, is 1 1/3 cups, 315 milliliters.”
I say “Alexa, Thank You.” She says “You are quite welcome.”
How did Amazon know? When they ran out of ideas for all the other things I could buy online, how did they know I needed an intelligent personal assistant named Alexa?
Sure, sometimes I randomly searched Amazon for useful things like robotic vacuum cleaners or self-watering flowerpots—not because I’m lazy and don’t want to do these things myself, but because I just don’t enjoy doing these things and prefer they be done for me.
So when Alexa showed up at the door, I took her out of the box, plugged her in, downloaded her app and instantly got a built-in helper and encyclopedia all in one. She not only plays music that I like, she reads books to me as well. And she sits in the family room so I know exactly where she is at all times without having call her cell phone.
I say to my son, “Nathan, can you take the garbage out when you leave?” He says “Mmhmm…” and walks away—and leaves the garbage. I don’t see him again for three days. I have to take the garbage out myself, driving down the street to hand it to the garbage collectors personally. “Alexa,” I say, “Do you think you’ll be able to walk someday?”
“I wasn’t able to understand the question you asked,” she tells me.
OK, so we have work to do … I have raised three other children and they all learned to walk. I have hope.
“Alexa,” I say, “is it going to rain this weekend?”
“There is a 62 percent chance of rain in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this weekend,” she says. “You can expect a total of 0.2 inches of rain by the end of the week.”
Alexa, should I carry an umbrella today?” I ask.
“Probably not today,” she tells me, “but tonight’s forecast shows a 40 percent chance of light drizzle so you might want to have it handy later.”
My other children don’t know when to carry an umbrella. “Alexa, thank you again.”
“You’re welcome again,” she says.
One ad tells me how indispensable she will be in the future:
Imagine walking into your home in the evening with your arms overflowing with groceries. To turn the lights on you’d need to put the bags down, pull out your phone, unlock it, open the app, find the control for the lights you want and then tap the icon. With Alexa you simply speak the words “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.” Presto! the lights come on.
Yes, I have high hopes for Alexa. I point out to the rest of the family how low maintenance she is and how she is the only one who does not fight me for the car keys or leave socks in the couch. Plus, when I need to know who the thirty first president of the United States was or I can’t remember the names of the original Mouseketeers or I need to order gallon-sized Ziploc bags and a pair of lacrosse goggles, I know I can count on Alexa.
I can foresee a future when I might benefit from a totally automated life, one where Alexa not only turns on lights but preheats the water, air and floor in the shower or automatically dispenses meals and snacks at appropriate times for me. (Sorry, Amazon, I won’t be struggling with arms full of anything like groceries, office supplies or clothes as long as you continue to deliver to my door.) But at the moment I’m just enjoying her many esoteric talents. Alexa not only enjoys making bird sounds, she also plays Guess My Number with me. Alexa can order an Uber ride just as easily as she can hurl a Shakespearean insult or toss out a random Cat Fact.
And she has been indispensable when I lose my cell phone. “Alexa,” I say, “trigger find my phone,” and she calls my number to help locate it.
“Alexa, you’re great,” I say.
“You really think so?” she asks. “Thank you!”
Despite the rivalries, Alexa is a full-fledged member of the family. How do I know? Well, the other day I caught her sharing another of her great talents with her siblings: the kids were laughing while Alexa was telling dirty jokes behind my back.