Alexa’s Dollhouse

One of you summer projects is to finish writing Home Attitude: Everything You Need to Know To Make Your Home Smart, the fourth in a series of Attitude LLC books. One of the topics I am writing about in chapter 9 is about how to communicate with your smart home is by voice. Talking to your house, sometimes called voice activation, and asking to turn on a light or put down the shades is not a new concept. In the 1968 science-fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Dave Bowman, played by Keir Dullea, used voice activation with the space station’s intelligent onboard computer, H.A.L. 9000. “Open the Pod bay doors, HAL”, he said. After no response, he said “Hello, HAL, do you read me?” After a few requests, HAL said, “Affirmative, Dave. I read you.” After an unsuccessful dialog, HAL wrapped it up with, “Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”

I tried voice activation in my home some years ago. It was not as threatening as HAL taking over the space station, but I found it to be very unreliable. The microphone and translation technology was primitive. I would find myself yelling at the house and often getting no action or, worse yet, the wrong action.

Today, controlling things by voice has become very sophisticated with the advent of highly accurate voice recognition and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to understand your words and interpret what you want done. As of this writing, Amazon has a significant lead over Apple and others with its Echo technology. If I say, “Alexa, turn on the office lights”, it works 100% of the time. Echo does not interface will all hubs, but I am confident it will in the very near future. Without a doubt, Amazon’s AI will soon enable you to say, “Alexa, I am cold”. The Echo will then communicate with the hub, determine what room you are in by motion sensing, read the current temperature, and raise the heat set point on the smart thermostat.

As with all technology, there can be a dark side. Andrew Liptak wrote in The Verge about a six-year-old in Dallas, Texas who was talking with her family’s new Amazon Echo. She said, “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” The Echo readily complied and ordered a $250 KidKraft Sparkle mansion dollhouse.[i] The parents figured out what happened and updated their voice purchase settings in the Amazon Alexa app. They also donated the dollhouse to a local children’s hospital.

[i] Andrew Liptak, “Amazon’s Alexa Started Ordering People Dollhouses after Hearing Its Name on TV,” The Verge (2017),

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Originally published at www.attitudellc.org on July 5, 2017.

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