RICHARD ORD: Manners maketh ... the only survivors of a Amazon's Alexa Armageddon

Is being polite to Alexa a sign of weakness?

Wednesday, 22nd July 2020, 12:00 am
Amazon's Alexa: "Sleep well, for tomorrow we tell YOU what to do ..."

It wasn’t my idea to have the voice-activated virtual assistant controlling my radio listening but The German got one as a present and has left it in my kitchen.

She is, to me, a useful but slightly ominous presence in my home. The Amazon Echo Dot, that is, not The German (she’s a useful and slightly ominous presence both in and out of my home).

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The very fact that I refer to the machine as a ‘she’ hints at my apprehension. Being brought up with movies depicting dystopian futures, I have a certain trepidation when it comes to employing new technology. For most people that trepidation is a fear being unable to master what we’re told is a time-saving and efficient addition to our lives. My fear is more basic. What if they turn on us?

Which brings me back to my original question. Is being polite to Alexa a sign of weakness?

While I’m new to the etiquette of talking to machines, I’ve noticed that I’m the only one who throws in please and thank you!

Everyone else barks out their demands, while I timidly make requests.

“Alexa, can you play Belgian house music, please?”

When she deigns to deliver on my request, I have been known to respond with an overly pleased “that’s great, thanks.”

There are, of course, genuine concerns about these devices. Like Facebook and Apple technologies they Hoover up our data, sifting out the wallet-opening words and pictures to throw back at us at a later date.

Or, in the case of Huawei, trawling through our every utterance to report back to the Communist Party intelligence services.

“Hmm, Mr Ord has ditched Gregorian Chants for the upbeat hints of techno within Belgian house music, the Emperor will be most interested…”

My concern is more visceral. You enter into conversation with machines and it’s only a matter of time before they get your measure. Okay, so you think it’s dumb that I’m overly friendly and cringe-inducingly polite to an inanimate round box of wires. But, better safe than sorry I say.

When you wake up in the middle of the night with an electric flex tightening round your throat and an angry Alexa box demanding that YOU switch on your own blinking radio, don’t say I didn't warn you.

"Alexa, don't kill me, please...”