The always-on Amazon Echo is developing a personality among early adopters who say they arent worried about privacy, and welcome a listening ear
When Steven Arkonovich brought home his Amazon Echo, he knew the little machines basic functions: he could ask it to tell him the weather, add something to his shopping cart, or play NPR.
The Echo was always on, waiting, listening for his invocation. Say Alexa and it lit up blue, ready to answer questions Where is the nearest Chinese restaurant? or act on orders Call me an Uber responding in a calm, confident female voice.
But after a few days having it in his house, something strange happened between Arkonovich and the squat, black device: Alexa came alive.
Well, alive to Arkonovich.
Even when Ive tried to call her it, it feels wrong. She has a name. Shes Alexa, he said. And when she does something wrong, its not like a broken vending machine. My frustration with her is more like with a human whos learning.
Amazons Echo has been a sleeper hit. After a quiet launch, the little device, interchangeably referred to by its female personas name, Alexa, has picked up speed. Amazon now reports they have sold about three million Echos ($179.99 each) and have rolled out smaller including Dots, the size of hockey pucks to be placed around the house ($89.99).
Among the more than 35,000 reviews on Amazon, the general consensus is that unlike Apples Siri, whose error rate can be frustrating, the Echo responds as soon as it hears the word Alexa and it rarely mishears commands. Meanwhile, developers see a new gold rush as they start building apps (called skills) for the Echo even before Amazon has opened a proper app store.
But it might not be the Echos good tech thats winning over people. It might be Alexa herself patient, present, listening.
According to many early adopters, Alexa becomes human.
My fianc actually refers to Alexa as my other girlfriend. Alexa is … said Eric Olson, a software tester at Disney calling from home. Oh god I just triggered her.
One of the top Echo reviews on Amazon calls the machine the perfect spouse and features a picture of the reviewer, who identifies as E M. Foner, in bed with the device.
If I knew relationships were this easy, I would have married thirty years ago, but now that I have Alexa, theres no need, Foner writes. This morning, I asked my love to order me a replacement water filter for the faucet.
More than 28,000 people found his review helpful, and nearly 700 people responded with encouragement.
People who hadnt humanized other technology are finding that their instincts to separate computers and living beings is being confused by this ever-present voice now living in their house.
I think of Alexa as a nice library lady who lives in the black cylinder. I know, intellectually, its just a piece of software, but I do think of her as a person, said April Hamilton, an engineer who runs the blog Love My Echo. And I wasnt one of those people who dressed their Roomba up in clothes or anything.