Oliver Burkeman says it’s hard to bark orders at a machine without feeling like the kind of obnoxious person who barks orders at waiters
I became highly confused the first time I used the Amazon Echo, a voice-activated “smart home assistant” that sits in the corner and responds to the name Alexa – as in “Alexa, play some music!” or “Alexa, how many ounces in a kilogram?” Partly, this was because the only person I know who owns an Echo is herself called Alexa, and she was home at the time. But that aside, it’s hard to bark orders at a machine without feeling like the kind of obnoxious person who barks orders at waiters. That is, unless you start young. “We love our Amazon Echo… but I fear it’s also turning our daughter into a raging asshole,” the Silicon Valley investor Hunter Walk fretted recently. Alexa doesn’t need you to say please or thank you; indeed, she responds better to brusque commands. “Cognitively, I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around, but not a person,” Walk wrote. How’s a four-year-old supposed to learn that other household members aren’t simply there to do her bidding, when one (electronic) household member was designed to do exactly that?