Alexa, What's The Future Of AI?

Jan 19, 2017

You can ask Amazon’s Alexa anything. Is she making us lazy or giving us time for other things? We’ll talk with Alexa.

Once upon a time, we dreamed of artificial intelligence in outer space, in a sci-fi future, far from home. Now, we’re talking with computers in our kitchens.  Asking them anything. “Alexa, what’s the Inaugural Oath?” “How big is a blue whale?” “What’s the square root of seven trillion forty two?” Does this ambient, ask-it-anything-anytime AI give us superpowers? Make us great? Make us lazy? And what comes next? This hour On Point,  talking with Alexa, and humans, about the AI future. — Tom Ashbrook


Hiawatha Bray, tech reporter for the Boston Globe. Author of “You are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves.” (@GlobeTechLab)

Alexa O’Brien, journalist covering capital crimes and national security. (@carwinb)

James Hendler, artificial intelligence researcher at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Author of “Social Machines: The Coming Collision of Artificial Intelligence, Social Networking and Humanity.” (@jahendler)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Ask Alexa? No, Hear This Alexa — “Amazon’s promise is that Alexa is “always getting smarter.” Through big data collection and analytics, she will come to know us in ways we can’t even know ourselves. My worry is that she will make this Alexa dumber. The platform offers endless choices, virtual connections and access to a world of information, but what this major-domo of the “internet of things” may deliver is reductive banter, mindless consumerism and a universe of trivia.”

Boston Globe: Do Alexa and other such devices mean the end of privacy? — “We’re accustomed to the privacy challenges of personal computers and smartphones. My wife switches off her phone’s location-tracking feature; I run a program to delete tracking cookies from my Web browsers. But what to do when everything in the house keeps tabs on you? IoT devices turns mundane activities into data events to record, from turning on the radio to running hot water for a bath. And just like those Web searches on your laptop, they are subject to scrutiny by marketing experts — or to subpoenas from the police.”

WIRED: Alexa is Conquering the World. Now Amazon’s Real Challenge Begins — “Amazon’s Alexa is about to be everywhere. On your phone. In your hotel room. Throughout your home.  Even in your car. In the year or so since Amazon opened the Alexa developer kit, no end of companies have integrated simple voice commands into their products. Yet this seamlessly connected world still feels faraway. The challenge isn’t in creating the devices, it’s in creating a consistent user experience as they proliferate.”

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Alexa’s Amusing Answers

Alexa isn’t all math and trivia – she knows how to have fun, too. In fact, these Amazon devices are programmed with “Easter Eggs,” or commands that can trigger a joke, movie reference or even a surprisingly nuanced scientific truth. Try a few of these curious queries with your Amazon Echo:

  • Alexa, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
  • Alexa, I am your father.
  • Alexa, more cowbell!
  • Alexa, what is the loneliest number?
  • Alexa, how do I get rid of a dead body?
  • Alexa, where in the world in Carmen Sandiego?
  • Alexa, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
  • Alexa, who let the dogs out?
  • Alexa, do a barrel roll.
  • Alexa, who’s better, you or Siri?

Easter Eggs via Reddit.

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