Is Amazon’s Alexa Replacing Relationships?
Hey Alexa, what’s the weather today?
Hey Alexa, play my Workout Playlist.
Hey Alexa, how do you boil an egg?
Hey Alexa, I’m sad.
Amazon’s virtual personal assistant offers words of encouragement: “I’m sorry you feel this way. Why don’t you try talking to a friend, listening to music, or going for a walk? I hope you feel better soon.”
Thanks, Alexa. These are great suggestions — but something’s missing.
Why are you sad? Why are you hurting? Why are you in pain?
Something else is missing: the opportunity to look deeper into ourselves, to relate to others, to turn to God when we need comfort, relief, guidance. When we need help.
Why “WHY” Matters?
My son’s favorite word is “why.” We must hear it dozens of times a day.
Judah, let’s get ready for preschool.
Judah, come help me set the table.
Judah, let’s pray.
Anyone else tempted to say, “Because I said so!”? But here’s the thing: this kid is one of the deepest thinkers I know! He’s always questioning — even that which we adults usually take for granted.
It’s such a powerful word, such a powerful question. It forces us to think more deeply. To question what we know and what we think we know.
Statements like “Because I said so” don’t cut it with Judah, and I’m learning they shouldn’t for me either. As devices like Alexa and Google Home become more prevalent in our lives, though, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re letting “Because Alexa said so” suffice.
Virtual assistants and voice-fueled technology are being used in incredible ways:
- NASA uses Alexa to organized daily tasks, arrange conference rooms for different mission meetings, and understand intrinsic data sets.
- Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca uses Amazon’s assistant to help teams access standard operating procedures and efficiently plan work.
- The International Rice Research Institute created a digital voice system that allows farmers in the Philippines to call in, select their dialect, and describe their land. The service, which uses machine-learning, then delivers accurate advice for planting and fertilizing.
- UK-based Inhealthcare allows patients to access medication reminders, health advice, and treatment help using Amazon Polly, a lifelike voice-to-text solution.
- Ford’s integrated Alexa system gives drivers greater connectivity that they can access in much safer ways.
And more applications are on the way every day. But as incredible as the technology is, it does not replace “Why?” It does not replace a caring friend. It does not replace a compassionate pastor. It does not replace God.
The History of Question & Response
Stage 1: Chief
Historically, if you had a problem, a concern, or a challenge, you’d ask a friend or family member. Someone who knew you well. Or you’d reach out to a mentor or community leader. In some parts of the world — when you have a question, you go to the Chief, the elder, someone who held your well-being in mind. And their response was borne of enormous wisdom. They knew you. Your hurts and struggles. Their advice was personal and intimate.
Stage 2: Google Search
Then Google Search came along. When you ask a question, you get a multitude of responses. And you get to pick and choose which you want. Algorithms influence search results, but you can filter your own responses. We can access answers from the entire world. Experts from anywhere giving detailed responses.
But Google doesn’t know about your history with suicidal thoughts. Google doesn’t know about your persistent anger issues. Google doesn’t know that your father passed away and never said “I love you” or that when you search “Does anyone love me?” you are seeking the validation you never received from him.
Stage 3: Alexa
Now we have Alexa, voice assistants and smart speakers. You can ask virtually any question and receive an answer. But they only give you the top response. Who determines what that is? Is it what you truly need?
In Alexa We Trust?
We’re placing tremendous power in the hands of a device — a device that is limited and that does not care about us. We’re allowing it to give us the answers to all our questions. Imagine if your child asked Alexa, “What is the meaning of life?” because she is so used to asking it, “What is the weather like?” Do you know what Alexa will say?
There is no doubt a historical shift is occurring; it changes how we view technology.
We increasingly expect tech to give us the right answer. To tell us what we want to hear. What does it say, though, about our character that we always expect the perfect response? The neat and tidy and easy answer?
And yet maybe it’s better that we’re moving back to an oral tradition! Maybe we’ll take it one step further and talk to a friend, our spouse, our spiritual leader, or our Father. Maybe we’ll find the value, honesty, truth and solace in the answers they provide. Maybe we’ll also learn to listen and provide answers to those who are experiencing their own moments of need.
As technology works for us, making our lives faster, easier, and more efficient, are we losing our ability to listen? The Bible talks about Jesus going for walks, escaping the crowds, the craziness, and listening to His Father. “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain” (Matthew 5:1).
When was the last time you (and I) stopped to listen to the Father? To say, “God, I’m in pain. I’m hurting.” His response will be, “Why? What’s going on? Talk to me.” When we quiet the noise, we can listen to the Father. We can hear His voice and learn from His wisdom.
Our devices are always on, always listening. They’re waiting for us to talk to them. But can they truly satisfy? Do they really give us what we need? Can they answer questions that require wisdom and understanding?
God doesn’t sit on our counters in plain view like today’s smart speakers, but He is always listening. Always on. Always ready to hear our questions. Always ready to respond.
Talking to God may not be as flashy or seem as tangible as speaking to your phone or a virtual assistant. It asks us to be much more patient and persistent. But the reward is great. The Father speaks not just to our minds but to our souls. He knows you more intimately than any smart device ever can. And much more than this, he cares about you. He is concerned with your well-being. He knows what answers you need — even if they are not the ones you want or expect.
Hey God, I’m sad.
What if we tried this instead?
Originally published at faithtech.com.