Alexa, can you please take care of my kids?

I admit to being skeptic when I first heard about the Amazon Echo. I have a phone in my pocket at all times, so do I really need a voice UI in the home that doesn’t go with me or tie into much of my ecosystem?

I have found it quite interesting to see how the Echo is used, especially by the family. That has been the key for me, as my kids (and even my wife) don’t have a phone at their hip. The other factor is that this shared input changes the entire dynamic.

I enjoy the obvious usage: I ask it for the weather, set timers, and I play music. Since voice is very much the primary input, the device handles commands incredibly well. It is comical to go back to Siri, where you can go beyond simple launching “Music” vs. “Play Pandora Robbie Williams”, and beyond that you have state to be able to have a back and forth conversation. I find myself wanting to do the same, and keep using voice with my iOS apps (e.g. “next song”, “pause”, etc).

Alexa, let’s crowd source some great jokes!

Second to music, the next most used Amazon Echo function at home is the joke-bot:

“Alexa, tell me a joke”

The kids love it, and it is fun to watch them. When a bad joke kicks in they try to get their point across by changing their actions:

“Alexa, tell me a really funny joke!”

It is a glimpse to the future to see them talk to Alexa, expecting her to understand so much more than we know she can grok right now. Where I find myself splurting out the same short actions, fearing that I can’t steer off of a path, they tweak and change to try to get a better point across.

Some of the jokes are pretty good, at least for the kids, but they do repeat and it leave you thinking that this will be a great platform to build a joke database!

If I could rate the jokes and tell Alexa when I am not a fan we could end up with an onslaught of unique humor streaming down on us. The Pandora of jokes may be best served through an experience like Alexa versus your phone.

Alexa, please listen to just me

The fact that anyone can talk to Alexa is a huge feature, but it has side effects. The kids shout at the device at the same time and fight over it. Just as we have a fingerprint with TouchID, I can’t wait for Alexa to know my voice print.

I have often wanted to turn on a restricted mode:

“Alexa, only listen to me”

“Alexa, Josh has control for now”

“Alexa, Sam can choose the next song”

“Alexa, Lucas is next, and then rotate through”

It was such a problem that I ended up tricking the tricks with slight in hand that hid the fact that I was selectively turning on and off the “mute” and only having it off when I was speaking. This allowed me to quieten the kids for a second and have them asking me:

“Dion, can you tell Alexa to play ….”

It was hard not to giggle a little at this. I can only imagine what life is like at Ben’s house with his huge family!

Alexa, please text my Mom and tell her I am here

The voice print will also allow for actions to take on context. Our house is a revolving door of neighborhood kids, and as soon as they get in they want an adult to text their parents to let them know they are here.

I really want them to be able to just tell Alexa instead of me, and have her take care of it. Alexa would need to be able to send messages, and grok who is saying this and who their “Mom” is, but learning that context once would save a lot of time.

As I think about how modern families operate the the integrations that tie up the loose ends, voice platforms are going to be great glue. Alexa has surprised me with the quality of ambient voice recognition, and I can’t wait to see what platforms come up with next.

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