“Hey, Alexa”

What? Is someone talking to me?

“I am sorry I cannot connect to the Internet right now.”

Oh, I guess that was not towards me…

The struggles of living in the twenty first century world with a name like Alexa. A world where saying “Hey Alexa,” will more likely get a response like “How can I help you?” rather than a “Hi!” A world where “Ok, Google” is no longer a command for a search engine but for a robot to remember your passwords, set your alarms and tell you the outside temperature. A world where saying “Hey Siri,” will allow you to send text messages and make phone calls without touching your cell phone. We live in a world where we expect a small hand-held machine to serve as a DJ, a personal assistant, and meteorologist​ all at the same time. Yet, due to the recent release of these products, the human population has no idea where this information is actually stored, the effects they currently have on society as a whole, and the future effects they will have as they evolve into more complex systems.

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Virtual assistants and their place in society did not really become interesting to me until I received a Google Home for my high school graduation. Prior to that, the only encounters I had with virtual assistants were with using Siri for fun a few times on my phone, but I never had it do things for me like send text messages or make phone calls. When I received this gift, I was excited. Yet, I really did not know the potential this tiny machine. After setting up the device, I began reading the instructions and different online articles that explained the many things it could do. I was in shock at the vast list of tasks I could request. For the months following, I had Google wake me up in the mornings, read me the news for the day, let me know what the weather was, tell me how long my commute would take, and play my favorite playlists. As I did these things, I often thought to myself, where does this information go? How does this tiny circular device on my nightstand know so much about the world, and hold so much information? Although these questions intrigued me and, in some ways, concerned me, the convenience that came from simply saying “Ok Google, wake me up in 20 minutes,” could not stop me from using it.

Not long after my first encounter with the Google device, I started college. As I introduced myself to those around me, I often received strange, confused looks when people heard my name. I did not fully process this, until one day, I introduced myself to someone and their response was, “Alexa?!” as in the Amazon Alexa?!” In addition to now fully comprehending the weird looks I got at the beginning of the semester, it made me realize the increasing popularity of virtual assistants.

Although I still do not know too much about them, the fact that my name is more commonly associated with a product created by Jeff Bezos than a person’s name, tells me that these machines have some sort of intriguing factor that fascinates millions of customers, and makes the product extremely popular. The Amazon Echo is one of several virtual assistants on the market that has caught customers’ attention.  In thinking about their increasing popularity and how they caught consumers’ attention so quickly, I started wondering what overall effect they were having on society. These machines conduct simple daily tasks that prior to their invention, had to be done by human beings. As a result, for my research project I wanted to find out more information about how these virtual assistants are affecting human interactions and everyday behaviors. 

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The shift in control over simple tasks from person to machine, such as setting alarms, dimming lights and playing music, made me think about how these virtual assistants have and will evolve. As they are still relatively new, we have not seen dramatic changes in the versions that are currently on the market. Yet, as seen by the rapid changes in this age of technology, this product will eventually evolve into something greater and more powerful than it is now. As a result, I began reasoning through the concept of what a virtual assistant will become in the future. Will the next version be able to conduct more tasks? Will it be smaller or larger? Will people still want to purchase this product in five years? This is another aspect of virtual assistants that I want to take a deeper look at for my research paper. Due to the fact that the product is such a recent innovation and it can already do so much for us, I am very interested in looking into what will happen next.

After watching the movie, Her, in this class, my interest in the future of virtual assistants was sparked. I was impressed by the many capabilities the machine had. The fact that a virtual assistant could create an emotional attachment to its user, was a bit creepy, but not too far from reality. This could potentially be something that happens in our future. In addition to the emotional attachment, I thought a lot about the accessibility of the machine in the film. The movie portrayed the virtual assistant as being accessible anywhere. It came with a small earpiece that could be spoken into, requesting the help of the assistant. A similar thing can be seen today with the use of AirPods and Siri. Maybe in the future this portable version of a virtual assistant will become a common model among all brands of the device, allowing humans to have access to the assistant wherever they go.

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Between my Google Home graduation gift, my name, Alexa, and the movie, Her, the world of the virtual assistant has become a subject of extreme interest to me. I am excited to work with this theme and find out more about the way virtual assistants’ function within our society today, and how they will become something more in the future.

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