Anybody naming a child before November 2014 may have liked the sound of “Alexa”. It has a tomboy-esque charm to it, perpetuated by the laid-back cool of the likes of UK TV personality Alexa Chung. It’s a good, solid name without being overly traditional. It’s hard to be offended by. It’s not an assault to the ears, like some other popular choices which shall remain nameless for the sake of playgroup harmony.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the bigwigs at Amazon deemed ‘Alexa’ to be a worthy moniker for their omniscient AI persona.
Amazon weren’t the first company to dabble in Artificial Intelligence. Far from it. But by effectively personifying their ground-breaking invention – to the extent that households worldwide have embraced Alexa as an invaluable part of home life – Amazon staff were elevated into the realms of genius. After all, how often do you hear neighbours, friends and colleagues refer to their Amazon Echo? No. It’s “Alexa this, Alexa that, Alexa tell me a joke, Alexa play me a song…”
Whether you’re based in the US or not, it’s hard to miss the hype surrounding the Super Bowl. What always strikes me though, is not the talk around the game itself, or even the mundanity of this year’s half-time performance… it’s the sheer scale of discussion surrounding the commercials.
Amazon – as in many a recent year – enlisted the help of A-list stars including Harrison Ford and Forest Whittaker to plug their Echo-based wares. The theme of this year’s advert? “Not Everything Makes the Cut” AKA “The World is Not Enough: Part II”.
Albeit, James Bond was nowhere to be seen and instead of the dulcet tones of Garbage’s Shirley Manson we find our feet involuntarily tapping along to the rousing, rhythmic resolve of Freddie Mercury during the chorus of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
The advert dives in with a demonstration of a new voice-activated microwave – akin to the then-futuristic pizza “Hydrator” discussed in my previous blogabout Back to the Future II – and concludes with Alexa, quite literally, controlling the planet for the enjoyment of a bunch of astronauts in outer space by tampering with the US power grid.
This sequence of events depicting the sheer scale of ambition for Alexa would be utterly terrifying if it wasn’t so friggin’ cool!
Yes, there is something inherently frightening about the colossal amount of power a few middle-aged white men in America enjoy thanks to their tech-based successes. But through their innovations – or those developed at their monetary expense - us mere mortals can start to feel like real masters of the universe.
MY TOP 15 ALEXA COMMANDS:
Alexa, set a timer for x mins
Used for everything from cooking to settling arguments between the kids – “Henry has this toy for 5 mins, then it’s Alice’s turn”.
Alexa, drop into…
Most of my Echo devices are the Echo Show or Echo Spot, which have a camera and screen. This facilitates room-to-room video conferencing. Uttering “Alexa, drop into kitchen” from my office sets up a video call, where the receiver answers automatically.
It’s also possible to do this from the mobile app, which is useful when travelling and my wife’s phone is otherwise engaged (the kids watching Baby Shark on YouTube, of course…)
The Echo in the kitchen lets out a “bong”, the audio is connected immediately and the video fades in over a few seconds to allow the receiver to nuke the call if they like.
Alexa, announce “thing”
There is endless fun to be had with announcements. My personal favourite is "Alexa, announce it’s the weekend!" I can make the command from my office and have it repeated from every device in the house.
This command fires up a barcode scanner using the camera and allows you to quickly order replenishments.
My family uses this command in the kitchen 99% of the time, to order kitchen roll, baby wipes, cat food – this list goes on!
Alexa, read my book
Eyes tired from staring at a screen all day? No problem! This command sparks up Audible, so you can enjoy listening to the latest and greatest books whilst enjoying a nice, relaxing soak in the bath.
Alexa, set the temperature
We have three Nest thermostats in the main house, plus one in my office. This means Nest can handily turn off the heating in the kid’s playroom when nobody is there, but we can warm it up quickly as and when needed.
Alexa, turn off / on coffee machine
This happens automatically when I’m in the house, but sometimes I arrive home from a trip during the day and want to warm it up. Other times, I’m enjoying a G&T and hear the boiler in the coffee machine firing up - this command allows me to easily switch it off knowing that unless an Espresso Martini is on the cards, I won’t be making more coffee!
We use Hue commands all the time - “Alexa, set lights to 50%”, “Alexa, set lights to blue” – the kids especially love this one and my son negotiates the percentage he’d like to sleep with if he’s feeling scared of the dark on any given day. Amazon just added a nifty change to allow you to calibrate Echo devices with specific rooms, so making commands in the lounge will change the lounge lights; the bedroom will change the bedroom lights and so on.
“Alexa, play the Greatest Showman” is by far the most common command uttered in my household, but the kids running into a room and shouting “Alexa, play Baby Shark” would be a close second!
Alexa, show me back garden
From a security perspective, these commands are invaluable. By uttering a few words, I can check that my home is safe from anywhere in the world. Each Nest cam can have a different name, so the front door is “doorbell”, the drive is “driveway” and so on.
Alexa, ask Dyson to start cleaning
This one never gets old - the future is now!
Alexa, ask number counter to count to 1000
My son loves this one. My wife, not so much…
Alexa, ask BMW to unlock my doors
Super handy, but also the reason why I don’t have an Alexa outside... yet!
Alexa, ask Tile to find my keys/wallet
The amount of time saved on searching for “lost” items far outweighs the cost of set-up.