Hello, I’m Alexa.
No, not the Amazon Alexa—I’m Alexa Peters, a writer, Seattle native, lover of jazz.
Like my digital doppelganger, I am capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarm clocks, streaming podcasts and recalling traffic and weather forecasts. I often hang out in living room corners but, when summoned under the right circumstances, can also be the life of the party. Sometimes I’m too quick to respond and will cut you off accidentally. I’m terrible with directions and will probably call the wrong Domino’s. If you want to listen to Katy Perry, I’ll likely put on John Coltrane.
I exceed AI Alexa in some ways, too: I can swing dance and hug. I can play Debussy’s “Deux Arabesques” on (a real) piano for you. I make good eye contact. I can also make small talk over a cup of coffee, walk your dog and cook up a big pot of spaghetti. And I can write you a poem no AI device could ever match. At least, not yet.
A few weeks ago, I took a double-take at an Amazon marketing email in my inbox. “Share your Alexa moments,” it said. I suppose at least AI Alexa can be thankful she doesn’t have that many embarrassing photos floating around on social media.
Since the 2015 release of the Amazon Alexa, many a male techie has found me on Tinder just to ask me to predict the weather or recite the score to the last Seahawks game. I’ve had whole groups of strangers ask me to imitate the voice. I’ve left the television on in the living room, heard commercial actors barking “Alexa,” and thought my roommates had suddenly developed an attitude.
Or take last New Year’s Eve at a restaurant in Fremont. A table of three girlfriends spoke loudly over martinis, and periodically, I heard my name waft over from their adjacent table. Eventually, I walked over and introduced myself, curious about all the excitement. After a collective yelp from the group, I discovered the women had worked on developing "Alexa." Giddy to meet me, they summoned their co-workers over from the bar with “Guess what her name is?!”
Being this Amazon team’s latest attraction was so amusing and perplexing I forgot to ask why they chose my name for their product. After all, us Alexas were around long before this miracle home assistant was ever conceived.
Being so closely tied to another, more famous Alexa, lately I’ve experienced something of an existential crisis. Really, just who is this other Alexa? How did she develop her oh-so-helpful personality? Can something so unique as identity be grown with the right amount of computer chips and algorithms in a South Lake Union tech lab? The other Alexa is so shiny and new, but is she the upgrade? Am I, human base model, no longer satisfactory?
Both of us grew up here in Seattle and yet our worlds are so different. I suppose I am analog Alexa, with a love for my city’s quickly-fading historic brick buildings, quirky music venues (I'm rooting for you, Café Racer) and the altogether grittier Seattle of my youth (cue “So a Ballard fisherman walks into a bar,” joke here.)
Amazon Alexa doesn’t exactly share these concerns. She’s more interested in progress, efficiency and of course, consumerism—and frankly, she’s good at it. She is being welcomed into new homes every day (in its first full year of sales, 4.4 million folks bought one), learning people’s routines, waiting to be updated, sleeked and modified. Every day, she propels Seattle—and the greater world—towards something new in the distance; a way of life we haven’t quite solidified yet. And every day, it’s clearer she’s here to stay.
As a Seattleite named Alexa, I must remain competitive, even a little skeptical, in the face of my AI twin and the encroaching paradigm shift she (so accomodatingly) offers. At the very least, why does she get to have my name? What are her plans for the future? And, if I get right down to it, just who does she think she is?
Then again, I wonder if she'd have the same questions for me.