Alexa, Please and Thank You

Call me crazy, but I think we all need to be nicer to our voice devices. Yes, maybe it wouldn’t hurt us to say “please” and “thank you” to Alexa, Siri, Google, or even Cortana.

This struck me after my cousin brought it up when I told her I worked for a company that developed voice application skills. Needless to say, it struck me when she asked me if we addressed our voice applications in a kind way.

After thinking more about what my cousin said, I remembered the many times I was annoyed with Alexa or Google when they couldn’t answer a question. Or when Siri writes my messages wrong because my Boston accent is somewhat heavy. I would often yell at these voice applications and often question their intelligence. It is a bit annoying when you have to repeat questions or phrases when they misunderstand your question.

This brought up a very interesting, moral issue.

Should we address electronics, devices, applications, and any other technology products with proper manners? We do it with other human beings, so why not with technology?

Amazon is now encouraging kids with Alexas to say “please” by thanking them; thus adding positive reinforcement. For example, when a child says “please” in their request, Alexa will respond with the answer and “Thanks for asking so nicely.” They called it the Magic Word feature.


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The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition | Photo by CNBC

Google has also added a similar feature, which is part of the Family Link. The feature — Pretty Please — uses positive reinforcement as well in encouraging children to use manners.

At the end of the day, these voice applications do service us in many ways. Whether it’s hearing the weather for the week or listening to your favorite song to brighten your day through these voice apps, I do appreciate where technology takes us. I don’t disagree that we need to be careful with our heavy use of technology. Not to mention privacy is also a huge issue with these types of tech products.

However, I think it’s important to be mindful and kind when interacting with such voice applications. It doesn’t hurt to say: “Alexa, please check my Domino’s order” or “Hey Google, change the reservation to 4:00 pm, please.”

Many people will disagree that we should treat technology applications, such as voice products, like human beings. However, I don’t think the argument is if you believe technology products are human or not. The argument is that we, as a society, should continue our habits of proper manners by simply saying “please” and “thank you” to voice products.

As the wise Gandhi once said,

“Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.”

When it comes to voice products, why wouldn’t this statement of morals, stand? Your code of morals shouldn’t change just when you’re interacting with a seemingly lifeless computer. Continuing a habit of manners should only be encouraged with daily actions.

In the age of technology, let us not forget to be a bit kinder to everyone and everything — robot or not.