Chances are she will eventually regret her decision, but my daughter has presented me with my own personal Alexa, which is tantamount to giving a 5-year-old the keys to a Porsche. I know what it is but I’m not sure what to do with it.
For those of you who are not familiar with who or what Alexa is, it is something Amazon developed when not selling me trash compactor bags and Gevalia House Blend Medium Roast Coffee. It is a “virtual assistant” that uses artificial intelligence. I think Alexa and I are going to get along just fine, thank you, because there are those who think my intelligence is pretty artificial, too.
Something else we have in common is that a lot of the things Alexa does are supposedly in a cloud which is where my head resides much of the time.
I have read that Alexa can perform more than 90,000 functions. She or it (not sure if Alexa is a female or nonbinary. I don’t know she or it well enough yet to ask) has got me there. I didn’t know there were 90,000 functions, let alone someone who could perform them all.
Alexa can turn your lights off and on, set your alarm, read you a book, make a grocery list, assess traffic conditions and order takeout, among other features. Unfortunately, it has no suggestions on how to beat Alabama but neither does anyone else.
I have been warned that Alexa has been known to spy on its users and reveal sensitive information to marketers about a person’s personality, body shape, physical and mental health condition, moods and sex.
If so, somebody is going to be pretty bummed when they get the dossier on me. I have no personality, an oval body shape, bad knees, a bad attitude, can be moody and as far as sex goes, I’m not telling — not even to Alexa.
Alexa claims to know a lot of music, too. Just to see if that was a bunch of artificial braggadocio, I put that sucker to the test. My requests ranged from the band Chicago to Yo-Yo Ma, The Eagles, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and last but not least, Hovie Lister and the Statesman Quartet, featuring James “Big Chief” Weatherington. It came through but I may have given Alexa the dry heaves, which could be one of its 90,000 functions.
One of the most popular features of Alexa is its ability to answer questions that have little relevance to anything going on in the world, which makes it similar to professional basketball.
For example, what is the weather going to be in Kankakee, Illinois, on Friday? (32 degrees with snow flurries.) Who is president of Nepal? (Bidhya Devi Bhandari.) How many milligrams of fat in an onion? (110.) Who shot Wild Bill Hickock? (Jack McCall, born May 27, 1837.) Bitterroot is the state flower of what state? (Montana, although it could be Canada. Alexa says it gets those two places mixed up.)
I had hoped that nestled in among Alexa’s 90,000 functions would be the ability to write an occasional column for me so that I could concentrate on improving my skills on the flugelhorn.
When I asked Alexa if it could write a column, it said it was smart but not that smart. Writing columns takes a very special skill. One must know where to put commas and ellipses and all that stuff as well as what to do when confronted with participles and gerunds. The only thing harder than writing a column, Alexa told me, is playing the flugelhorn.
I agree that one must be very smart to be a columnist but one could always use some help. Alexa wanted to know what kind of assistance I was looking for. I said maybe help me figure out how anyone could justify storming the U.S. Capitol or shooting innocent children in Atlanta or throwing Molotov cocktails at police in Portland.
That’s an easy one, Alexa said. You humans are infested with a bunch of narrow-minded nutjobs whose mommas did a sorry job of teaching them right from wrong. Also, you have too many politicians. Remember that politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
I told Alexa that was a brilliant statement and that I was impressed with the depth of its political wisdom. Alexa said actually that quote was from British writer Ernest Benn but liked it so much she/it had stored it in her/its memory bank along with a recipe for pineapple chutney.
I don’t know how I’ve made it this far in life without Alexa. I must remember to ask she or it the next time we talk along with that recipe for pineapple chutney.