Some people I visited a while back had an Amazon Echo, the device that connects to Amazon’s Alexa AI. I won’t have one in my house. A microphone that’s always on – waiting for the ‘hey Alexa’ call – and thus potentially sending everything back to a database run by persons unknown (and, at times, actively listening, I gather) is a bit too Aldous Huxley for me.
Still, messing with an AI system was too good an opportunity to miss. I thought I’d try out a few questions. These included:
1. ‘Kirk or Picard?’ Alas, Alexa doesn’t have an opinion.
2. ‘Open the pod bay doors’. Alexa won’t do that. Why? Apparently because Alexa’s not Hal, and we’re not in space.
3. ‘Calculate the square root of negative one.’ Hee hee. The answer is a number that doesn’t exist (it’s part of the imaginary number set) and I was expecting the Echo to disappear in a black vortex as the universe sucked in on itself, but all Alexa said was ‘The square root of -1 is i.’ Smart move. Avoided the total destruction of the known universe, that did.
4. ‘What was the time fifteen minutes ago?’ Alexa knew that (8.24 I think).
5. ‘What are the endochronic properties of resublimated thiotmoline?’ Alexa doesn’t know. I do. It’s the title of a short story by Isaac Asimov, riffing on the language of formal science papers.
I didn’t ask whether it was possible to repair an interociter. Nor did I ask Alexa to tell me the value of pi to the last decimal place, and not to allow any other instruction to interfere with the recitation, which I saw my favourite Trek captain do when the NCC-1701 Enterprise‘s computer was possessed by an alien. I’m sure Amazon’s programmers are wise to that one.
Next target: baiting Wolfram Alpha.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019