If headlines are to be believed then we’re entering the age of artificial intelligence, and if how political candidates behave today is any indication then we’re already there with the artificial intelligence part. Everyone who makes something is out to get a piece of our money and Amazon just received a few hundred dollars from my husband.
“Hello, O’Briens. I’m Alexa, the personal intelligent assistant in the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. How can I help you?”
No, Alexa didn’t actually say that, and if she did I have a list of questions that I would like answered, starting with “How can I return you and get a refund?” Like it or not, Alexa is in the O’Brien compound so after a few days of figuring out what it does, I’d like to compare it to Siri on my iPhone.
First, Alexa is priced higher than Apple TV which seems rather expensive since all Alexa can do is listen (and take notes, presumably), respond to questions, play some music, and a few other tricks (including capturing information and sending it back to Amazon). The Echo speakers sound pretty good and the cool blue light ring on top makes you think something is going on inside. I’m thinking this is like a household version of Knight Industries’ KITT and the roving red light in the front of the menacing Firebird, but maybe I’m just hoping for more.
The so-called far-field voice recognition is pretty good; certainly as good across a quiet room as Siri is in front of your face. Add noise and Alexa’s (the Echo) seven microphones isn’t so accurate but Siri has a similar issue with a single microphone. Alexa can check the weather, set a timer, play music, search the web, read news, check on whatever you ordered from Amazon, and a few other things Siri cannot do, otherwise the similarities are remarkable, down to and including the voice (the feminine voice is Siri-like with a non-regional accent).
Echo and Alexa can be set up to control smart home devices but Mr. O’Brien wasted his holiday spending money on Alexa so there’s nothing left over to control smart home devices which we cannot afford this year. Like Siri, Alexa and the Echo require an internet connection, but also electricity. This device won’t be traveling with you, but maybe the smaller Echo Dot might. After all, I take an Airport Extreme when we travel, so why not?
I like the idea behind Alexa and the Echo device and I can see where this kind of intelligent personal assistant might have a place in technologically savvy humankind. I don’t like the price tag. I don’t like that it’s tied to Amazon which always tries to sell me something and tracks what I do, say, view, et al. I don’t like that the basic interaction is so limited (a complaint I make of Siri, too). I don’t like the tether. Yes, electricity with a power cord is a tether.
Now, compared to what iPhone does I find Alexa and the Echo to be interesting but anemic. Siri works for me everywhere and does much the same thing, but also has two components Amazon doesn’t think are necessary. A screen for visuals. And mobility. Siri is everywhere; on every Apple device I own and most of them are mobile and can go where I go, even if I’m in the shower (thank you Apple for Watch Series Two).
Critics and pundits claim Amazon’s Echo to be a raging success having sold about 3-million units. That’s a guess because Amazon, unlike Apple, never reveals how many of what it sells it sold, and while 3-million of anything sounds impressive it equates to about a week of iPhone sales.