Ok Google, An Alexa Story

Ok Google, An Alexa Story

· 3 min read

It was the year 1988 and I was three. Of course, I remember nothing from that age in my life. I have a weak memory and I am liable to forget things from even a month ago. However, I don’t need to draw upon my memory to state with conviction that, at that age I was not conversing with inanimate objects of any kind. Certainly not ones who spoke back to me.

Fast forward to 32 years later. I have a son of my own just shy of age 3. A couple of years ago when we first brought Alexa into our home, she was frequently called upon to pacify him with endless renditions of Baby Shark. His first attempts to talk to her usually sounded like “Ashee”. As the months went by and his words got clearer much to our delight, he managed to activate her by himself a couple of times. He wasn’t speaking full sentences then, so the net effect was Alexa was left hanging or anything she was playing ended up getting interrupted. Still the pulsing ring of light delighted him.

A few more months went by. He knew that Alexa was capable of so much more. He just didn’t possess the skills to get her to do his bidding yet. He tried anyway and in what was a proud moment for any parent in 2020 he managed get her to play Baby Shark without any intervention by us. This was the beginning of a new adventure.

The months flew by. Along with a rapid expansion in his linguistic abilities he also began to develop a taste for the same 5 - 6 songs. The combination of these two meant that we often found him sneaking into the room, asking Alexa to play the song he wanted and proceeding to dance like no one was watching. And when the song was over, promptly commanding her to play the same song again. It was cute the first time. But delight was quickly beginning to give way to irritation.

Thankfully, Alexa came with her version of a deaf switch. Pressing a little button disabled her from accepting voice commands and she expressed her displeasure with a red ring of light. When the song repetitions got too much for us to bear, we disabled her when he wasn’t looking and gave him some long-winded explanations about how “Alexa was angry with him and so she wasn’t going to listen to him for a while”. Bless Amazon for this killer feature.

Kids as we know have senses that are far sharper than we realize. It didn’t take long for him to notice that our hands were hovering over Alexa far too often before she got angry with him. It wasn’t long before he was pressing the button himself before talking to her. Lacking any kind of biometrics to disable her we realized that we just had to accept the situation as it stood. Short of shutting her off and not being able to use it ourselves, this pretty much meant he could do as he pleased whenever he pleased. But it couldn’t really get worse, right?

The link between pressing the button if Alexa was red and then commanding her was now a well-established pattern. But a new interest began to emerge for him. He started loving that red ring of light. So, watching the light go on and off by pressing the button was a new game. Yet there was one more level of control that we hadn’t envisioned yet. He had now decided that if he wasn’t the one commanding Alexa, she must always remain in her red state. I imagine, she looked better to him with her red halo that her usually dull grey self.

This meant that we couldn’t give her voice commands from any distance away either. If we wanted to use Alexa the way she was designed, we had to walk all the way over, command her and disable her promptly to avoid him overriding our command. Which is the most inconvenient way to use it. So, we don't talk much to her these days. She has a new master.

And that is the story of how our toddler took control over Alexa.

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