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Monday, October 8, 2018

Alexa, We're not a Thing!

As I wrote the other day on a Facebook post, Alexa doesn’t know me. We’ve never had any kind of relationship. I’ve witnessed Alexa communicating with friends and family, but aside from that, we’re not connected in any way. Why? Alexa is way too personally invasive.

The latest from Amazon tell us that Alexa will somehow be involved in my microwave and even a wall clock. And before year’s end, Alexa will be able to confer in whispers—in case someone is sleeping nearby. Oh there’s more. And much more to come.

I don’t pretend to understand the technology involved here. As Wired magazine states, “Alexa evolved out of advances in an approach to artificial intelligence called machine learning, which Amazon used to train algorithms to recognize speech from across the room with surprising accuracy.” Earlier editions of the technology had some problems in the nuances of language. The more recent audio algorithms are getting better at tracking the subtleties of speech.

As noted, I’ve not jumped on this technology. No doubt it’s cool. Speak—and Alexa makes it happen. Again, from the Wired story, “There’s also evidence that some consumers are wary of advances in the ability of devices like the Echo to listen to them.” According to Werner Goertz, a research director at analyst Gartner, “The industry’s efforts have not been sufficient to remove this misapprehension.”

A while back I wrote about the significant increase of robots and how they will supplant some of the workforce in the days ahead. It seems Alexa is on the march to do some of that as well. This was documented in a recent New York Times story, “Hotel Workers Fret Over a New Rival: Alexa at the Front Desk.” Their fretting has turned into action. 

Check in at a Marriott hotel in China and you might well find no front desk person at check in. Ms. Te’o-Gibney, a 53-year-old grandmother of seven, worries, “It seems they know they will be eliminating our jobs.” This has inspired thousands of Marriott workers to authorize a strike, along with demands for higher wages and workplace safety. The union has asked for “procedures to protect workers affected by new technologies and the innovations they spur.”

Is Alexa now a workplace enemy? One concierge at the San Jose Marriott, raises the concern over an agreement with Amazon that would deploy Echo devices in Marriott hotel rooms that could make her position pointless. As she says, “Alexa might do my job in the future.” Other hotel chains are moving on this as well.

Plus, other new trends and technologies are impacting the hotel workplace. As the Times article illustrates “There are automatic dishwashers on the market; machines to flip burgers and mix cocktails; robots to deliver room service or help guests book a restaurant reservation."

As the saying goes, “But wait! There’s more!!” Uber and Lyft usage has reduced the tips of hotel doormen. A food-delivery app has done the same to the tips bellhops previously received. And let’s be honest…a lot of customers likely enjoy the savings.

How does the hotel business justify an increasingly non-human service environment? A statement from a Marriott spokeswoman defended the move as “personalizing the guest experience and enhancing the stay.” And frankly, Alexa can be so sweet when she wants to.

If all our website transactions are recorded somewhere—somehow, could the same happen with Alexa conversations? What about recording only what Alexa hears? Could it be used in legal action against users?

The Bible says, “The gossip of bad people gets them in trouble; the conversation of good people keeps them out of it. Well-spoken words bring satisfaction; well-done work has its own reward.” (Proverbs 12:13-14, The Message)

That is a good reminder.

Meanwhile, I already have a female voice who listens and checks my speech. My wife.

Alexa gets way too close for my taste. Like I said, we're not a thing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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