Amazon Echo Is Amazing. Is It Also Making Us More Demanding?

The smart speaker dilemma

Two green macaws (Photo by Tejasvi)

Amazon Echo has been amazing. From instant baking measurement conversions to a quick answer about the day’s weather forecast, it removed the need to stop what I was doing to search for the answer on either my mobile or laptop.

The Eye-Opener? “Alexa” is making some serious behaviour changes in the home.

After a few years, there were times where “Alexa” didn’t hear me because the TV was on or I was likely on the border of being just far enough away where my request couldn’t be accurately be interpreted/processed. So I found myself repeating it in a slightly louder, awkward voice. Sometimes “it” still doesn’t hear me which created even more frustration purely because I expected to continue multi-tasking and “Alexa” should be able to seamlessly provide an answer upon requested. Eventually, I realised that the tone of my voice was escalating.

Shouting at a speaker that has no understanding of emotion will obviously have no effect. In fact, “Alexa” completely tolerates poor behaviour and negative emotions which leads me to my concern.

Personal fact: As a kid, I often got told that I was bossy. Sometimes, I even got in trouble for it. Will the “Alexa” make me bossier or will I continue being just as bossy but channeling the boss-speak to “Alexa” device?

The Concern

Amazon Echo tolerates poor negative behaviour and emotions. However, humans do not. Will I begin to interact with people in the same way that I interact with “Alexa”? Or could my brain be trained in such a way where there’s a magic switch that turns on or off depending on if I was face-to-face with another person or if I was interacting with a smart device?

The reality is that our behaviours change and evolve over time. We are emotional human beings and creatures of habit. For example, I embarrassingly caught myself wanting to ask “Alexa” the time, whilst on my way home from work, instead of checking my watch or smartphone. I’ve also noticed that when my patience was being tested by “Alexa”, the tone of my voice would raise sooner than interacting with a person. Have you noticed this?

Question for you: What’s your experience been like with a voice command smart device (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc)?

The Future

Today, smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home tolerate poor manners. They will just continue responding to the best of its capabilities (aka “skills”) and won’t lash back or respond with an unhappy tone. Instead, it will respond apathetically.

Our emotions, habits and behaviours are gradually changing as we find new ways to interact with computers. We’ve witnessed and experienced this first-hand with mobile devices. Now, 4 out of 5 people look at their smartphone within 15 minutes of waking up in the morning. Another study in 2017 found that 46% of Americans check their smartphones before getting out of bed.

According to John Hopkins University research, writing and talking are now effectively independent systems operating within the brain. This research also found that “it’s possible to damage the speaking part of the brain but leave the writing part unaffected — and vice versa”.

In addition to having the smart speaker in the home, there are many opportunities for the voice service technology, called “conversational AI” outside of the home. One application is to use conversation AI to increase employee engagement in the workplace through innovations of the HR processes for the employee lifecycle (eg. on-boarding, exits, etc.). For example, when it comes to annual performance reviews “instead of just relying on the traditional self-assessment forms, an AI-powered interactive assistant can give an employee a conversational experience.

Food for thought: How will our evolving behaviours impact the way people interact face-to-face whether it’s in a professional or social setting?

Using AI To Be Better Together

Conversational AI has enabled us to have a more natural conversation with computers. Its empowered companies to provide better customer service, helped a travel company collect over $1M in hotel bookings, transformed sales funnels into personable conversations at scale and more.

Technology is changing how we empathise with others. And ironically, loneliness appears to be rapidly growing in a highly connected world. We’re spending more and more hours of our day using technology to communicate rather than face-to-face.

“Loneliness could be hurting job performance and loyalty”

The Econonimst reported that “the lonely are not just sadder; they are unhealthier and die younger”. CBS News mentioned that loneliness “is sweeping the workplace, and it could be hurting job performance and loyalty.”

Within 2 years of the smart speaker’s existence, 43 million Americans own one. That’s 18% of the adult population.

This is just one of the many examples of the lightning speeds which technology is evolving. For this reason, it’s important to be constantly conscious of the ways in which we consume, interact and adapt technology into our everyday lives.

Going back to the Amazon Echo situation, it has also been an interesting experience to speak to a machine as if it were a human and to be surprised by some of the creative yet intuitive responses that were considered such as “Alexa, what are the opening hours of David Jones in Sydney?” or “Alexa, tell me a joke”. Imagine you had a friend named “Albert”, the next generation of “Alexa”, which could use conversational AI to:

  • Train good manners and encourage positive behaviours
  • Augment an individual’s knowledge
  • Coach teams through challenging situations or re-enforce jobs well done
  • Translate cultural differences real-time like the way we use a translator for languages

Who would have imagined the relationship we have with our smartphones today? It’s only a matter of time before we’re talking to our smart speakers as if they’re another person in the house or that friend/thing we don’t go anywhere without.

Thanks for reading:)


Amazon Echo Is Amazing. Is It Also Making Us More Demanding? was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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