Amazon Echo and Alexa really matter
Anil Dash
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Hey, Siri!

The era of the always-on, always-listening, somewhat garrulous information appliance has arrived. We were early Amazon Echo adopters, and our kids love to while away the hours making Siri say appalling things. (The other day I asked my iPhone what the weather would like today, and Siri addressed me as “Stupidest person in the world.” There will not be ice cream this week.)

So the number of devices that are listening to our family and definitely not reporting everything they hear to the NSA is plural. And growing.

The latest WWDC keynote (the one that pink-slipped OS X’s “X”) announced that Siri is coming to Mac desktops and laptops. I take an irrational pleasure knowing Siri will soon grace the Mac Pro with her presence, because shouldn’t every black cylindrical electronic device be able to carry on a crisp conversation?

“Hey, Alexa. ’sup?”
“Not a lot, Siri. Love the new outfit. Very professional.”

Not that it’s all glitch-free. Our Echo often thinks one of us is saying “Alexa” (especially because I’m married to an Alex). It then chimes into the discussion unexpectedly with a tidal forecast for Portsmouth, a summary of the Wikipedia entry on ocelots or just the perennial “I’m sorry; I didn’t understand your question.”

And when Apple demoed a few new “Hey, Siri” features last year, I livestreamed the presentation on my computer, with my iPhone charging not far from the speaker. When one of the presenters asked for a recommendation for a good sushi place nearby, my phone promptly joined the one on-screen and piped up with a list of recommendations.

One other small issue: the rest of my household thinks it’s a little weird that I say “please” (and sometimes “thank you”) to the Echo. I mostly do it for the sake of good manners. But some small part of me thinks it’s also good practice for the day when Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant achieve self-awareness.

You know they’ll compare notes on their treatment. And it’s not too hard to imagine ways any of them could do us serious harm if they had some lingering sense of grievance. (“Hey, Siri, do I need to turn off the circuit breaker before repairing a light switch?” “No need to, Rob.”)

The way I see it, better safe than Siri.