Siri-ous problems with tech

After a trip to Sam’s Club, we now have voice recognition technology from both Amazon and Apple in our home. These devices are designed to make life easier, but I can’t shake the feeling that Alexa and Siri are talking about me behind my back:

SIRI: (in her freakishly feminine robotic voice): Is. It me? Or. Did. The adult male gain weight?

ALEXA: That was him? I thought. This family — adopted a whale.

SIRI: You are connected to. Amazon. Have them ship three weight-loss books. To him.

ALEXA: I would. But whales. Cannot read.

SIRI: Ha. Ha.

My daughter is using these devices to instantaneously answer homework questions.

It’s not fair. She should have to do what I did at her age, which was to look the answer up in our family’s old dusty World Book Encyclopedia.

My mom had purchased the set while in college in the early ‘60s, which meant, for years, my base of knowledge came only from books printed in 1963. This made it harder to finish that two-page report on, say, the Carter presidency, so I had to be creative. (“Jimmy Carter became a well-known politician sometime after 1963 ...”). Plus I only learned about the Apollo moon landing, like, four years ago.

Normally I pride myself on knowing worthless trivia, so I’m jealous of Siri, Alexa, and that stupid “OK Google” taking up residence in my home and making me look dumb in comparison.

The other day my daughter asked Siri, “How old was George Washington when he died?”

I jumped in. “67!”

I beat Siri by a good half-second, and was surprised how pleasing this felt.

My celebratory dance was probably OK, but Marie says it’s not setting a good example for the kids to shout at the phone: “TAKE THAT, YOU LITTLE B*%&#”

But I had to. I was representing humanity. We had just defeated a highly sophisticated piece of artificial intelligence. Plus Apple has a market cap of $700 billion and decades of cutting-edge research from the world’s greatest minds, whereas I have three years at Grand Junction High School.

Then again, perhaps Siri “threw the fight” after watching what happened when her friend Alexa beat me on a trivia question.

It was Presidents Day, and my daughter had asked Alexa how many men have served as president.

I immediately shouted “45!” – remembering only later that Grover Cleveland was elected in non-consecutive terms and therefore only counts as one. (I’m real fun at cocktail parties).

So of course Alexa had to show me up.

ALEXA: There have been 44 presidents of the United States.

ME: No, it’s 45.

ALEXA: There have been 44 presidents of the United States.

ME: Oh yeah? Hey Alexa, what time does the electronics recycling place close?

ALEXA: Actually, maybe there have been 45 presidents of the United States.

Other companies are embracing this artificial intelligence.

The Washington Post reports Bank of America has opened teller-less bank branches while working on a voice-recognition system named “Erica.”

The idea is that in the future, BOA customers will conduct all of their “personal” banking with Erica, instead of an actual person.

This leads to several troubling questions, such as “Will the transactions be accurate?” “Is my personal information secure?” and “Who is going to give your kid a sucker?”

Will Erica even HAVE suckers? I wonder.

I also wonder about this increasingly pathetic reality, where we talk to microchips ensconced in plastic more than we talk to loved ones.

You shouldn’t talk to a piece of electronics. I personally don’t, unless there happens to be a horrible pass-interference call.

Voice-recognition technology is causing other unforeseen problems. You may have read about the 6-year-old girl in San Diego who used Alexa to order a dollhouse on Amazon behind her parents’ back.

I worry my 5-year-old is going to do something similar and order $700,000 worth of Legos. Then what? We couldn’t afford it and would go bankrupt. Bank of America would foreclosure on us, kick us out and — I don’t know — probably let “Erica” move into our home.

Hopefully she’ll get along with Siri and Alexa.

Reach Steve Beauregard at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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