Back to School with Siri and Alexa


alexa-twoIs their intelligence really artificial?

By Lee Ann “Sunny” Brown

By now, everyone has started back to school and I, for one, am so glad. I have my neighborhood swimming pool back, and I can go out to lunch without a 45-minute wait. Target is not crowded. And, as long as I avoid going anywhere during the school bus schedule, even the traffic is more manageable. I guess I better enjoy it while it lasts, because I am sure that it won’t be long until all learning will take place online and the kids will be anywhere they have Wi-Fi access—which is everywhere. Actually, I was just thinking about this as I was enjoying seeing all of the cute back-to-school pictures of my friends’ children (and grandchildren!) that came through my Facebook stream, and wondering why they haven’t already moved to online learning since that’s probably where all the teachers get their information now, too.

Heck, that’s where I learn most everything now. For instance: if I am dying to know whatever happened to Alicia Silverstone from Clueless, or what has become of the VJ’s from MTV, all I have to do is Google them and I find out everything I desperately need to know. Or, if I want to learn how many donuts I could eat before gaining a pound, I can Google that, too. In fact, I don’t even have to actually type any words or Google anything. I can just ask Siri, or Alexa. All I have to do is say “Siri, how many donuts can I eat before I gain a pound?” and Siri will tell me before I have even pulled out of the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru. I can ask any question off the top of my head into the thin air and the answers just come to me, like magic.

Now that I have all knowledge available to me by just asking, there are so many questions I am dying to know the answers to. Why won’t my nails grow strong or my hair grow in blonde? How is it that I can remember all of the names of my neighbors’ dogs but not my neighbors’ names? Why do I look better in my mirror at home and like a stranger in the mirrors at the department store? Things like that are always on my mind. Then there are the deeper mysteries, like how the camera works. Don’t tell my husband that I still don’t know how photography works. Since he is a photographer, he has told me this thousands of times and he is really good at explaining things. I just don’t get it.

I’m sure my not understanding it has something to do with math, which is something else I spend my days struggling to understand and avoid. For instance, I don’t measure—which is another thing that I’m sure my husband hates to hear. I am not sure how the telephone or radio turn sound waves into speech and music, and how the television projects moving pictures must be the work of sorcery.

But there is hope for me, with Alexa and Siri and all of their knowledge just for the asking! The biggest learning curve seems to be learning how to ask the right questions. Amazon is constantly sending me emails letting me know what is new with Alexa with examples of how to ask her the questions or give her commands. It seems that “she” is learning new things at a much faster rate than I am able to keep up and that “she” likes keeping certain things a secret unless I figure out how to ask her in just the right way. The same is true with Siri. Apple is always sending me little tutorials on everything I can get Siri to do. I spend most of my time learning how to communicate with both of them. I tried asking Alexa in a thousand different ways to change the volume when she is playing my music, when I finally learned that I just have to say “Alexa, turn to volume six or I will just come over there and change it myself.” It’s a little game that “she” likes to play.

Siri is even worse about this. Sometimes it can be like pulling teeth to get Siri to answer me. However, that could just be because I have Siri’s voice set as a man’s, and they never want to tell you anything, anyway.

I will be glad when they let us change Siri’s and Alexa’s names to any name we want to call them. I will change their names to “Sunny,” too. Then I will ask myself the questions—and answer myself. That’s when I will finally have learned how to speak French, and Spanish, and Pig Latin, and math, too. In fact, I’ll know everything! Including how photography works.

Therefore, I predict that in the future kids will no longer be going to school to learn academic information, but that they will be going in order to learn to ask the right questions. It’s just a theory I have, but I say that is the key to unlocking the information of the future. All you have to know is the right questions to ask and all knowledge is yours. The important thing, though, is that they will still be going “back-to-school.” 

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