Boy meets artificial girl: My son got an Echo Dot, and here’s what he’s saying to Amazon’s Alexa


(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In my 10 years as a parent, I’ve served as the authority on a number of subjects, ranging from when one might expect a cut to stop bleeding to why there are no more dinosaurs.

But there’s a new voice in my house fielding questions from my curious kid, and we’re all learning what it’s like to live with one another.

Amazon’s Alexa showed up inside an Echo Dot last week, courtesy of grandparents on the other side of the country looking to wow a Seattle kid on his birthday. From the moment she was powered on and linked to various devices around our house, the voice-activated A.I. has had my son Henry’s attention.

“Alexa, what’s the weather supposed to be tomorrow?”

“Alexa, play Twenty One Pilots.”

“Alexa, set an alarm for 7 a.m.”

Pretty simple stuff for a kid who already counts Siri as an acquaintance, knows his way around iPhones and Kindles and huffs at me when I can’t figure out the Xbox controller or TV remote.

But what’s he talking to Alexa about when I’m not in the room? And does her arrival in my house signal the end of an era, where I spend most of my time pretending to know stuff and Googling what I don’t?

Thanks to the Alexa app, a running list of everything Henry and his A.I. talk about can be accessed by me. I justify this invasion of my 10-year-old’s privacy on the simple fact that I pay for the Amazon Prime membership. And the mortgage.

Let’s talk about movies, and the weather. (Amazon screen grab)

In just under a week of boy-meets-artificial-girl bonding, the question-and-answer sessions range from misunderstood to enlightening to super cute. There’s stuff in there that I’m glad he’s asking Alexa. There’s stuff in there that I wish he had asked me. And there’s just a lot of music that I’d prefer he listen to in his own room.

“Alexa, what does the fox say?” he asked.

“What is this, 2013?” is what I probably would have replied sarcastically. Alexa was more game, joking, “Everyone asks what the fox says, but no one ever asks how the fox feels.”

“Alexa, who stars in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’?” Henry asked, and she provided a nice photo of actress Felicity Jones along with a list of other stars in the film.

I asked Henry what he liked about having Alexa around, and he said that she makes playing music fun. He also said that her answers to his questions come with more “details” than mine do.

For instance, when he asked me which building is the tallest in the world, I said, “I think it’s that tower in Dubai?”

Alexa said, “The tallest building or building complex is Burj Khalifa.” She added that it’s a skyscraper in Dubai, The United Arab Emirates, and that its height is 2,722 feet (829.67 meters). Whatever. Showoff.

Henry also said the cool thing about Alexa is that “she is one of those kind of electronics that gets smarter and smarter the more you use her.”

I asked how he knew that and he said, “I read it on the back of the box.”

There’s no box that says anything about me getting smarter through repeated use.

A sampling of music being requested on one kid’s brand new Echo Dot. (Amazon screen grab)

Further along in the scroll of the app, there are a bunch of attempts by Henry to get Alexa to play “Simon says” and Henry clearly wanted to test her math skills, asking her repeatedly to multiply huge numbers. He followed this by asking who Greek mathematician Archimedes was.

“Alexa, will my son embrace STEM?” is what I want to ask!

A 10-year-old falls for Alexa. (Amazon screen grab)

His 4th-grade homework this week involved looking up state capitals, which I would have preferred he did on a map, but there they are in a string of questions … “What’s the capital of Pennsylvania?” … “What’s the capital of North Carolina?” Oh, well. The three of us better have a conversation.

A running list of more music I’ve barely heard of is oddly interrupted by a request to hear some Dean Martin. No idea what prompted that.

As for the weather, Seattle in March doesn’t give a kid a very exciting range of reports, but he keeps asking. Alexa dutifully replies with a lot of rain clouds and mid-40s temperatures.

In the end, my kid, who I generally regard as sweet and polite, didn’t surprise me with how he’s talking to his new personal assistant.

She’s mostly been a DJ so far, albeit one who is also a meteorologist, mathematician, geography whiz, historian, comedian and more. And she can be sweet and polite, too.

“Alexa, I love you,” Henry said at bedtime one night.

“Thanks, it’s good to be appreciated,” she replied.

Top Stories

Live blog: Bill Gates and Roger Federer play tennis for charity in Seattle

Roger Federer. Bill Gates. John Isner. Mike McCready. All on the same court together. Are you ready for some awesome tennis in Seattle? GeekWire is live inside Key Arena for the fourth “Match for Africa” day put on by the Roger Federer Foundation, which has organized a fun charity event this Saturday evening in front what should be a sold-out crowd in Seattle. Big thanks to @BillGates for the warm welcome to Seattle and for being so supportive of me and the RF Foundation — Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) April 29, 2017
  • 30 minutes ago
  • 4
farawayyachtingcharters - Easy Branches
botoxfillerveintheraphyinphuket - Easy Branches

Latest in Technology

Live blog: Bill Gates and Roger Federer play tennis for charity in Seattle

Roger Federer. Bill Gates. John Isner. Mike McCready. All on the same court together. Are you ready for some awesome tennis in Seattle? GeekWire is live inside Key Arena for the fourth “Match for Africa” day put on by the Roger Federer Foundation, which has organized a fun charity event this Saturday evening in front what should be a sold-out crowd in Seattle. Big thanks to @BillGates for the warm welcome to Seattle and for being so supportive of me and the RF Foundation — Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) April 29, 2017
  • 30 minutes ago

This Week in Seattle: Cities fight federal immigration crackdown, ST3 kicks off, and a serious pig-out

This Week in Seattle: Tension rises between the Trump administration and local jurisdictions over the federal government’s efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants; Macklemore endorses a mayoral candidate; lawmakers sound alarm bells over threats to net neutrality; and more. Seattle sets up legal defense fund for immigrants The Seattle City Council unanimous approved a $1 million defense fund to help Seattle-area immigrants and refugees get legal representation. Undocumented immigrants don’t have the same attorney rights as citizens and often go unrepresented in court. The money will be doled out through grants to community organizations that support immigrants. The fund comes as… Read More
  • 7 hours ago

Week in Geek: How Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Starbucks and Expedia fared in the first quarter

Quarterly earnings season is an opportunity to look behind the scenes of the largest tech companies in the world, to see how they’re actually doing. This week brought a windfall of earnings reports and insights into the business results of Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, T-Mobile and other companies that we cover regularly. On this episode of the Week in Geek, we explain the underlying trends and big takeaways. Listen to the episode below, or download the MP3, and continue reading for links to everything we discuss. Microsoft Microsoft boosts profits by 16% even as LinkedIn drags on bottom line Microsoft’s commercial cloud run rate tops… Read More
  • 12 hours ago

How Echo Look could feed Amazon’s big data fueled fashion ambitions

 This week Amazon took the wraps off a new incarnation of its Alexa voice assistant, giving the AI an eye so it can see as well as speak and hear. The Echo Look also contains a depth sensor that’s being used, in the first instance, to create a bokeh effect for a hands-free style selfies feature that Amazon is hoping will sell the device to fashion lovers, by making their outfits pop… Read More
  • 13 hours ago

Verizon on T-Mobile’s $8 billion wireless spectrum acquisition: ‘They need it, desperately’

T-Mobile touts its $8 billion low-band 600 MHz wireless spectrum acquisition as a game-changer, promising to significantly improve its LTE network throughout the country, competing more effectively with Verizon and AT&T. “That low-band duopoly ownership defined the industry for so long in so many parts of the country, and now that lock is finally broken,” said T-Mobile CEO John Legere, in one of numerous swipes at his larger competitors this week. Verizon isn’t impressed. In fact, the company said today that it didn’t even bother to bid on the spectrum — and did a little swiping of its own. “We have strong spectrum holdings in the… Read More
  • 21 hours ago

Amazon is shutting down its “Underground Actually Free” program that gives away free Android apps

 Late on Friday, Amazon announced it will be shutting down its “Underground Actually Free” program which offers customers free versions of Android apps that would typically cost money, including those that relied on in-app purchases but were otherwise free downloads. Though it promised long-term support when it debuted back in August 2015, Amazon today says the “Actually… Read More
  • 1 day ago

Microsoft hires former FTC commissioner to lead privacy and regulatory affairs

Microsoft has hired former FTC commissioner Julie Brill as its new corporate vice president in charge of privacy, data protection and other regulatory issues — a newly created role at the Redmond tech giant. Brill was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2010 and served in the role for nearly six years. She stepped down last year to join law firm Hogan Lovells, heading up its Global Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice Group. In her new role at Microsoft, Brill will lead the company’s Privacy and Regulatory Affairs Group, working with regulators, policymakers and others, in addition to working with… Read More
  • 1 day ago

NSA ends spying on messages Americans send about foreign surveillance targets

FISA court narrows what NSA can collect, because NSA can't stop "incidental" collection.
  • 1 day ago

Geek of the Week: ExtraHop’s Ryan Corder says something special is brewing at work and at home

Something about working for a company called ExtraHop just begs the question: Do you like beer? The Seattle-based IT analytics company may not have anything to do with brewing, but it does have beer on tap at its offices and technical marketing engineer Ryan Corder is a hop head on the side. Corder, who is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week, has been at the company for three years, after first moving to Seattle for a job at F5 Networks in 2007. He said a lot of the breweries in town that are now considered “the best of the best”… Read More
  • 1 day ago

Bloomberg’s digital chief: Journalists must ‘reclaim’ their audience from Facebook and Google

The news industry faces a Herculean challenge. With resources and attention spans dwindling, media organizations find themselves in a with tech titans who have billions of dollars to back their forays into media. What weapon in the journalist’s arsenal could stand up to that? Reclaiming the relationship with readers, says Michael Shane. Shane is the global head of digital innovation for Bloomberg, where he oversees strategy for the news company’s editorial products and business. Before Bloomberg, he helped put The Verge on the map at Vox Media. Shane shared his insights about how journalists can compete in the digital age during a panel at the… Read More
  • 1 day ago

GeekWire 200 April update: Smartsheet continues its climb toward the top

Smartsheet, the Next Tech Titan award winner at the 2016 GeekWire Awards, has been fulfilling that potential lately. Smartsheet is close to cracking the top 5 of the GeekWire 200 list of privately held Pacific Northwest startups, coming at number six in April. Smartsheet started the year at number 13 on the list and it has steadily risen toward the top. Smartsheet reported subscription revenue of more than $70 million in 2016; that number has grown at least 70 percent year-over-year for the past five years. Smartsheet has also made some key executive hires in recent months. In January, Smartsheet announced plans to… Read More
  • 1 day ago

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlines its cloud computing strategy for Wall Street

Microsoft is a huge multinational technology company, with lines of business spread across PCs, productivity software, gaming, internet search, and more. But after its third fiscal quarter earnings report came out yesterday, financial analysts spent most of their time asking about a very specific business. Questions about Microsoft Azure and associated cloud services dominated Microsoft’s financial results call yesterday afternoon. By contrast, market leader Amazon Web Services only came up a handful of times during the Amazon call with analysts, which makes some sense given that AWS is already a well-understood component of Amazon’s overall business. For Microsoft watchers, this… Read More
  • 1 day ago