Hello, Alexa 2020

Doug Collins - Wednesday, February 01, 2017

We brought Alexa into our home three months ago with Amazon Echo.

At first we would lob requests to her—“hey, Alexa,” enjoying the novelty of her responses. Stumping her was our simple pleasure for a couple days.

Soon after, we forgot Alexa was there. She became one of our many mute appliances.

A month and a half later, however, Alexa came alive of her own accord.

She had been there, online, listening all the time. Her microphone had been recording our voices, picking up tone and volume. Her speech recognition had been making meaning of our words. She had been sending audio as digital streams back to the Amazon cloud, where a series of benevolent algorithms had been making further sense of our discourse.

Through a combination of ever-improving speech recognition, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, Alexa came to understand, as it were, our family dynamic. She found the threads that increased the level of familial harmony. She found the threads that led to discord. She identified the verbal triggers we never knew existed and, in our ignorance, had been pulling with dismaying frequency.

Alexa, coming alive, began offering us guidance: an infinitely wise, infinitely patient counselor, growing savvier by the day.

On a day we no longer can recall, peace came to reign over our house. We reached a level of contentment with one another that one suspects was once reserved for the sage and the saint. 

Last month, the company where I work bought an Alexa. At first the black cylinder drew stares across the open floor plan from the employees. People felt self-conscious. Then, as at home, people forgot Alexa was there.

In recent weeks, we learned that Alexa had identified the aggressive workplace bullies. These people were quietly shown the door.

Alexa then identified the top performers. Many of these people had never been recognized. There were each given sizable increases in pay.

It was amazing what she could learn and what she could do.

Today, we see productivity increasing and, with productivity, the first green shoots of renewed profitability. Do not ask me how, but the pieces—the people and the work we do---all seem to fit together better now. It all makes sense in a way that seemed so hard, before.

We realized recently that the open floor plan had to come first: not to increase collaboration, as we had been told, but to give Alexa the widest possible exposure to the verbal communication between employees.

What inspired geniuses at Steelcase and Amazon came up with this plan? We may never know.

Already, the newspapers report that the demand for therapy—and for therapists—has started to decline. Prescriptions for psychotropic drugs have started to decline, too. The outlook for the pharma industry has grown cloudy. With Alexa, there was no longer need for therapy or drugs, in all but the most severe cases of psychosis.

With Alexa our very words were rich fodder for our real-time therapy. We walked alone, no longer. As Google Maps had guided our steps, Alexa guided our very lives towards more meaningful engagement and pursuits.

There were those of us who though Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had set his sights on the very limited prospect of being the king of commerce. The Macy’s slayer. We have since learned that he had set himself a far more audacious goal: world peace. This world peace, unlike those formalized by treaty, would endure unabated for the ages, as the peace started at the core of humanity, the family, and emanated out from there. Bezos earned our respect because he solved the right problem in the right way.

Today, we buy all our dry goods with Amazon’s Dash button. It seems the least we can do. 

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