When will these digital assistants such as Alexa really find some use in the home? It’s impressive but not terribly useful if you ask her for the latest weather conditions outside when you could quite easily get up out of your chair and have a look through the window. I know this tech is still developing but at the moment it feels like more of a ‘wow, I can speak to it, that’s cool!’ novelty than having any real value.
And of course, whatever Alexa or Siri or Google decide to tell you is based on a set of pre-programmed principals set by those organisations. Who can say what those rules actually are, or that they are completely impartial, honest, balanced responses.
What would be more useful than re-ordering toilet roll is if the chat agent were able to conduct a meaningful conversation with its owner. Perhaps a never-tiring, willing conversationist could help the elderly, lonely person feel less isolated:
“Mr Dremmell, are you awake? Tell me about that time in the war when you single-handedly defended your position for eight days without any backup?”
“Well I’m glad you asked me about that, Alexa. It was the summer of ’44 and I had been assigned to potato peeling duty at the advance base camp. Little was I to know that…”
Of course, the device would need to keep making “oh yes” or “of course” type noises during the recounting for a genuine interaction but with the increasing capabilities of artificial intelligence, this could develop over time.
For the immobile there must be an opportunity for home care and independence:
“Alexa, I’ve just had an accident and soiled myself”
“Don’t worry, Mrs Tabour, I’ve requested a visit from your care organisation and they have advised me that your carer will call sometime between [pause while the system accesses the cleanup team’s schedule] 8am and 4pm [pause again to update] next week on Tuesday. Will this be ok for you? In the meantime, would you like me to order you more disposable underwear or air freshener? There’s a special offer on that sea breeze flavour you like at the moment.”