Alexa is now humming along in my living room most evenings. I use the voicebot routinely to ask about basketball scores and discover obscure facts about people and places.
The more I use the bot, the more I wonder how it could evolve.
Here are five ways I’d like Alexa to help me during the day.
1. Offer more contextual tips
Proactive voicebots are already becoming a “thing” in 2017. We won’t always have to ask for the weather — most voicebots will eventually note a change in the weather or provide a quick summary on cue. What I’m hoping will happen soon is that the bot becomes more like an actual assistant. Alexa could let us know we should wear a raincoat when we leave for a movie, noting that it’s supposed to rain heavier than normal. This is widely expected and not that difficult to program, but it has to have the right balance of timely information without being annoying.
2. Augment what I’m watching on television
I want Alexa to augment my evening entertainment. I could see this getting annoying, but the basic idea is to add to what I’m watching. I should be able to set the level of involvement. If I’m watching the NBA Playoffs, for example, I might tweak a setting to have Alexa offer some interesting facts when there’s a lead change or someone sets a record.
3. Engage in actual conversation
You may know that the biggest difference between Alexa and the Google Assistant is that Alexa doesn’t understand context. If you ask “What’s the weather like in Cleveland?” and then ask “Is there a good museum there?,” you won’t get an answer with Alexa — but you will with Google Assistant. However, even Google is not exactly ready to fill in for a spouse, asking about your day at work. It’s really just a question and answer session with some context. I want Alexa to know more about my personality, my emotions, and my abilities. In conversing about basketball, it should know I like the Warriors. If I ask about restaurants, it should know I hate spicy foods.
4. Correct my errors
Really? Do we want a bot that corrects us? To be honest, this could be really annoying as well — but then again, it could also save me from wiring an outlet incorrectly or giving someone directions to a bad part of town. Again, let’s skip the privacy debate for now. If the bot listened to my conversations and I said something erroneous, I wouldn’t mind if Alexa chimed in. Imagine the scenario where I say something about why my daughter has a stomachache right now, and I tell her to take the wrong over-the counter meds. “You should try Tums instead,” Alexa might say, knowing my kid’s medical history and that she shouldn’t really take Pepto-Bismol for some reason. These interjections would only help if they were 100 percent accurate and helpful.
5. Respond to my tone
Here’s a tough one for AI programmers. I’d like Alexa to know when I’m annoyed and decide to stop talking and not offer any new information. We might be a long way from this scenario, because we all express annoyance and anger in different ways. Empathy is a difficult programming challenge, but the benefit is knowing when to disable certain features, especially the ones I’ve mentioned above about interjecting comments and corrections.