Please and Thank You Alexa, Ok Google?

Ben West - 🐒🌻
4 min readJan 15, 2018

Sales of Google Home Mini and Echo Dot over the holidays (more than one sold every second) is evidence that we’re all salivating over living in the nifty smart home dream that’s emerging but there is a problem.

Let me put that another way. I have a friendly suggestion. Instead of having to ridiculously call out to Alexa or Siri or sadly even worse sharing the awkward indignity of triggering a response by repeatedly saying “ok Google" in public (That’s what I’ve found myself saying a lot recently) I have a suggestion for what could work better.

Now first, don’t get me wrong I love Google Assistant. I can now push a button on my hearing aid and trigger Google Assistant at any time via bluetooth. Because my pricey headphones are pretty much invisible I am often that guy who looks like he’s talking to himself walking down the street while fetching directions or trying to remember some assinine trivia.

But that’s not enough to dissuade me. I love it. I Finally feel like the cyborg I always wanted to be. I can push a button on my chest, like a combadge on Star Trek, and unleash the power of the internet.

I can now use a voice command to send a message to satellites and around the world to servers in Hong Kong and then back again to turn off my TV without having to locate a remote control under a cushion on my couch. Long story short ish... I’m on board. I just have an idea for how we can make it better regardless of which self inflicted surveillance device you prefer.

My idea is this: let’s just say “Please and Thank You” to begin and end disembodied robot interactions. No goofy names over and over and over… just a polite request to the invisible wizards. As in instead of saying “Ok Google, please turn off the TV” you just say “Please turn off the TV".

If Alexa starts rambling on about something you didn’t want in the kitchen while your whole family tries to eat dinner then instead of everyone yelling “Alexa stop, or Alexa Shut Up” (which works as a voice command by the way) now they could all just yell out “Thank You”. Much better right?

Because my mom raised me right I often say please and thank you anyways when I ask for things from my virtual assistant. I even thank the toaster sometime for doing it’s job so well. But I’m sure there are lots of times I could have been more considerate.

If we are going to bark commands at our computers all day now the least we could do is be polite don’t you think? Maybe it might even train us all to be a bit more congenial in the real world?

Currently I don’t think we will be accidentally triggering our devices very much. We could all be a lot more friendly these days right? How about using this new trend towards voice commands as motivation for renewed civility.

Given all the work Google has clearly done to be able to distinguish natural language and type on a screen whatever nonsense falls out of our mouths it seems weird to me that they hadn’t thought about how unnatural it is to say this goofy stuff out loud all day long before they tattooed the phrase all over the city of Las Vegas for this year’s CES.

Again, I say this with love. I’m typing (and swiping) this right now on a Google Pixel 2 XL. I brought my new Alexa on the plane with me to Toronto like a pet rock. Trained it with my mom and then left it with her as Google Assistant became my go to.

By the way Assistant is so much better… especially when you just have to squeeze your phone or hold down a button on your chest to start a conversation with the electronic hive mind. Maybe soon we all will have trigger buttons sewn into our clothes but this voice command change is important even just for the dignity of naked guys in the shower in the future. Don’t make them shout “Ok Google” to turn up the music while they are bathing. How about just saying Please turn up the volume and before you know it you are boogying in a bathtub.

We should all politely request that no matter who makes a voice command device that we all have the option to just say please and thank you to their robots.

And by the way if the robots are gonna have names maybe you should let us name our new family members. ;) Seriously though, if you want us to love these things let us personalize them more. But anyways… it’s early.

There are still lots of other issues to address before we are all living the life of lazy luxury we are hoping for. I can’t wait to talk crypto prices with an Alphabet brain and buy Bitcoin hands free on the couch while a robot vacuum cleaner uses lasers to attack the dog hair on the floor. My coffee already tastes a bit better thanks to boiling water with a “good morning” shortcut. But often the commands don’t work as planned and I like most people have yet to replace all my appliances with versions that can tell bad jokes and order replacement batteries.

Now is a good moment as we all take trepidatious steps into this voice activated world to pause and consider what will make the difference between a novelty and something we aren’t embarrassed to use in public?

So what do you say? Please Alexa, ok Google?

Thank you.

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Ben West - 🐒🌻

🔥Campaigner, writer, juggler, anxious Canadian 🙃 Work: climate emergency budgets, Ethelo eDemocracy & Web3 🦋#Art 👀 He/him #SolarPunk ☀ #loveislove