Commentary

Amazon Echo, Alexa -- You Need Better Manners

Consumers who buy Amazon Echo generally love it. While some say it has become way too easy to make online purchases through Amazon, many love it for its ability to play music, answer complex questions, find local movies and times, provide directions, get sports scores, and read books to the kids. 

The voice-activated gadget has become part of the family for many households, with some parents calling Alexa -- the voice assistant -- another person in the home. Others call Alexa their new best friend.

"Amazon Echo is a transformative piece of technology, hardware/software," writes Jeff Rutherford in a Facebook post. "I feel like we've got a fourth person in our house now," he wrote. "After four days, the boys are still completely enamored with Alexa."

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Rutherford went to the gym one Saturday morning and when he got back he asked one son what he'd been doing. He had spent half the time talking to Alexa, asking lots of questions about religion, science, and more.

His boys still love the gadget, he told SearchBlog. It connects to Audible and his eight-year old has Alexa read stories.

Others on Facebook call Alexa their new best friend. Some parents say the biggest issue is manners. Alexa does not require a "please" before the request or a "thank you" after carrying out request. All that is required to activate an action is her name, Alexa. 

"I fear it’s also turning our daughter into a raging asshole, because Alexa tolerates poor manners," Hunter Walk wrote on Medium. He says learning at a young age requires repetitive actions, and he's not sure whether "kids get why you can boss Alexa around but not a person."

As Walk puts it, Amazon clearly has a hit on their hands, but the voice response system needs a little tweaking.

Really, what harm would it do to reinforce a little manners? Even for adults. Change the prompt command to respond on "Alexa, please," and "Alexa, thank you," rather than just the name.

Walk's post reminds me of the fiasco Microsoft went through recently with its Artificial Intelligence Twitter chatbot, Tay.Ai, which learned from experience. In less than 24 hours, Microsoft's chat bot Tay.Ai gained more than 50,000 followers and produced nearly 100,000 tweets. But the experiment from Microsoft's Technology and Research and Bing Teams fell apart after the artificial technology turned into a Hitler-loving, feminist-hating monster. 

I'm not saying Amazon's Alexa will go the way of the Tay, but requiring better manners sure wouldn't hurt.
5 comments about "Amazon Echo, Alexa -- You Need Better Manners".
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  1. Liz Dahl from Liz Dahl Enterprises, April 8, 2016 at 3:43 p.m.

    Alexa is the least of our problems when it comes to manners - have you been watching the Presidential candidates???

  2. Norm Cloutier from McClatchy Interactive, April 8, 2016 at 4:13 p.m.

    It should be a settings option -- "polite mode" -- as some of us prefer not to fully anthropomorphize a piece of software.

  3. Clare-Marie Harris panno from Posterscope USA, April 9, 2016 at 2:10 p.m.

    We have Alexa in the bedroom and Kitchen - and I would rather say "Alexa please..." I would appreciate it if this were a mandate.  It is not only that it wouldn't be harmful, it would be more pleasant.   Especially for adults who crave the civility of "please" and "thank you".

  4. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, April 11, 2016 at 10:29 a.m.

    Yes, Liz, Alexa is the least of the world's problems when it comes to manners, but technology creates a bit of a dichotomy, especially for kids who need to learn the basics in life and why being polite matters, even when they have a point of view. 

  5. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, April 11, 2016 at 4:29 p.m.

    I have a similar issue with the voice commands on my car's GPS system. Due to the fact that we have never been formally introduced, I have no choice but to ignore any and all spoken instructions. As a result, I'm always late to my destinations. 

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