Alexander Aciman writes about his experiences with Alexa, a “smart alarm clock” that’s “dumb otherwise.” All of these services are, in one respect or another. It’s in iterating the product that there’s potential for breakthrough growth, and in that respect I have faith in Apple or Google developing their products:
Sometimes Alexa forgets to wake me up in the morning; other times, if the volume hasn’t been turned up all the way, I’ll wake up half an hour late to an alarm that is only one tenth as loud as I want it. But if she loses connection to my WiFi at 3 am, she’ll definitely let me know right away. If someone shouts my name—Alex—across the apartment, it will activate Alexa, although sometimes Alexa will also be activated by arbitrary syllables in ordinary conversation. And if she starts doing something annoying, you’ll have to shout “Alexa, Stop,” six or seven times. Sometimes she’ll play Rod Stewart covers of Ella Fitzgerald songs instead of the Ella Fitzgerald versions, which defies both the alphabet and common sense. She struggles to understand phrases like “rewind” or “maximum volume.”
If I’m feeling sentimental like Rick Blaine, I can ask her what the weather is in Paris, but it takes two separate commands and questions to find out if it will rain or snow in New York. As I read this paragraph aloud to myself, her blue ring has already lit up several times and is blinking in panicked anticipation of hearing an extremely basic request that she won’t be able to fulfill. This is not what artificial intelligence looks like. But what I will concede is that at $49.99, Alexa is one of the best toys for adults, and the world’s best clock radio.
A thing I thought of recently that I’d love from Siri: the ability to snooze an alarm (or turn off the alarm) with voice. As it stands, my morning alarm goes off in the other room and I have to stumble over and stab at the glass of the screen to hit a very small “Stop” or “Snooze” command. How great would it be if I could simply say, “Snooze for 10 minutes” without going near the device in the first place. These simple developments are the future, I hope.
In one commercial for Google Home a father asks his device how big a blue whale is and is told that it weighs 300,000 pounds. When I asked Alexa the same question, she informed me that there is no real way to estimate the size of a blue whale because whales are so big that they usually need to be cut up into blocks and weighed piece by piece.
Big fan of this.