From the time I started this site, I’ve said that I always wanted my house to be more like the Starship Enterprise; helpful, automated and voice activated. I have raved about the Amazon Echo and other voice assistants from the start. So when Amazon announced that you could change the Echo’s wake word from “Alexa” to “Computer” to make your house more like Star Trek, I jumped at the opportunity.
Now here’s a little aside. It’s 2017 and computers are everywhere. I have multiple computers around the house. In my day job I work on a computer for a company in the software industry, where the word “computer” comes up fairly often. My wife is often cursing at one of the computers or telling me that we need a new computer because this computer is broken.
I hope you’re picking up what I’m laying down in that previous paragraph. If you happen to own anything with an always listening voice assistant built in, whether it be Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google, you know the frustration of talking about your voice assistant, rather than to your voice assistant. I often find myself pausing mid sentence and saying “Echo” rather than “Alexa” just so that I don’t then have to completely stop what I’m doing to yell “Alexa STOP!” over and over. Now imagine changing that wake word from a proper name, to a word that you use very often in casual conversation.
We have one Echo and two Dots placed strategically around the house so that Alexa can hear us anywhere in the house (and probably the NSA, but that’s a different rant). On the first day, I easily triggered Alexa accidentally fifteen times. My wife did it enough times that she started laughing maniacally after every time she said the word “computer.” It was like playing a game of Asshole where someone has made the rule that you can’t say “drink.” We started pausing mid sentence to think of a word to say that wasn’t “computer,” which gets exceedingly difficult when you’re on multiple work related calls for a company in the computer field.
After just two days of trying, we abandoned the computer wake word and went back to our old friend Alexa, whose name rarely comes up in conversation unless we are talking about my cousin’s daughter. Now that this experiment gone awry is over, I have to think about how frustrated the crew of the Enterprise must have been all the time. They existed in a world where everyone worked with some sort of technology and talked about computers all the time. With the ever present Enterprise computer always listening for someone to address it as “computer,” they must have been constantly telling it to stop responding. I’m sure someone will tell me that the computer had logic that would let it understand when it was being addressed and when it was being talked about, but for my part, I prefer to picture Jean Luc Picard constantly having to stop mid-sentence to angrily tell the computer to butt out.