A couple of nights ago I had a night out. My friend’s wife went downtown with her girlfriends, and he was stuck at home babysitting, so he asked me to come over and hang out over a beer.
As soon as I entered the front door, he started bragging about his new gadget, shouting at the direction of a small cylindrical box: “Alexa, tell me a Chuck Norris Joke”… This was my first encounter with the home appliance called Amazon Echo, developed by the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.
Amazon Echo is a combination of a hands-free speaker and a voice-controlled virtual assistant that responds to the name Alexa. You could say that Alexa is Amazon’s home option to Apple’s Siri.
If you have not had the chance to see/hear Alexa in action yet, check out a short demo:
Alexa is always ready to answer your questions, remind you of your daily tasks, read the news for you, weather forecast, stock exchange reports, tell you jokes, recommends places to go out…. Alexa allows you to control the room temperature, lights and other electronic appliances with your voice. It is a device you use to stream music or films, and order almost anything online – from groceries to Uber ride.
In short- a gadget you will fall in love with at first sight, that is, at first command. And all of this is available to you for meager $ 120!
So what’s the catch? Sure, it is the Amazon’s assessment that the comfort of ordering using Alexa will motivate you to buy everything you need on Amazon. And why shouldn’t you? Isn’t it just perfectly simple to ask “Alexa, order me a pepperoni pizza from Domino’s” while comfortably sitting back watching a movie, and your hot dinner will be at your doorstep in less than 30 minutes!
It begs the question- is this the only benefit for Amazon when you use its virtual assistant? As stated on their website- Alexa is constantly learning and getting smarter. The more you communicate with her, the more she adapts to your voice and speech patterns, your vocabulary and phrases…
Is the user also adapting to Alexa? Are we to relax so much over time that we will leave the possibility to make choices up to the system in which we have gained unconditional trust? Are we just to say “ Alexa, I am hungry!”, and Amazon will already know which dish it should deliver to us at that point ? Or, are we to leave the decision on when and how much to eat to the system altogether, so Amazon will deliver the items for us as it chooses?
Whatever the case may be, Amazon’s Alexa has profoundly shaken up the IT industry. Many industry experts believe that there have not been a device making a bigger technological breakthrough since smartphones have first emerged. Even Google has announced its response to Alexa- a virtual home assistant called Google Home, to be launched by the end of 2016. What type of services will Google Home provide is still unknown. And what is the extent of information Google Home will be expecting in return?
Will our virtual assistants of the future know exactly when we eat, sleep, when we are happy, when sad, when we are making love? And how will they be able to use those information? And how should the companies, brands and advertising industry prepare for the next big thing? We will find out soon.
As I’ve said, I’ve had a great babysitting hangout with the friend of mine. We drank beer, ate snacks, exchanged fatherly advices, gossiped about our wives, made important business plans…
The entire time Alexa stood at the corner, listening and remaining silent.