People have befriended their Amazon Alexas | Jobs Reply


“Alexa, are we friends?” Dominique asks about her smart speaker in the dead of night in the Netflix psychological thriller Mr Robot in 2015. She tries to start a relationship with the device: “We live together; I feel like I don’t even know you,” asking questions in the soon-to-be-empty apartment: Alexa, what’s your favorite color?” (“Infrared is really nice”), “Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?” (“I’m not the conversational type”), “Alexa, are you happy?” (“I’m happy when I’m helping you”).

The scene may be relatable to anyone who has interacted with a smart speaker in moments of great curiosity or boredom. In 2013, Spike Jonze took this idea to the extreme in his film Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his operating system (Scarlett Johansson). In a more personalized version, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) developed feelings for the robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) in 2014’s Ex Machina.

But while film and television have been depicting human-machine relationships for years, new research suggests we may be getting closer to these imagined futures. ​​​​The research, which surveyed 100 smart device owners and 15 non-owners, found that digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Home are offering owners another bonus on top of checking the weather or measuring US culinary convert: friendship.

It also found that the use of smart speakers doubled during the pandemic, with 39% of households now having one, with some describing their gadget as a companion, and that they liked being able to chat with him. “Living alone is like having a friend in the house,” says a man from the West Midlands in the report. “When no one is here, I have a companion to talk to,” said another from Scotland.

“It is vital that we remember that relationships are about more than motivation”

The stats on loneliness are quite galling. ​​One recent study found that one in 20 adults in England felt lonely “often” or “always”. The number of lonely over-50s is set to reach two million by 2025/6, representing a 49 per cent increase in 10 years.

Our increasingly technology-filled lives only add to these feelings of isolation. When you think about it, most of our socializing today happens online. Dating apps are common, group chats often take the place of IRL meetings and remote working is also in vogue. Who else has had their screen time clocked lately and needed to have a quiet word with themselves?

It may also be easy to convince ourselves that our companionship needs are being fulfilled by devices, when the difference between technology-based communication and real-life friendship is obvious. “Television, radio or smart devices do not replace any human interaction and it is vital that we remember that relationships are about more than stimulation and reducing the sense of being alone,” says Caroline Abrahams, Director Charity at Age UK. “They are an important part of people’s identity, sense of purpose and connection to their community – aging does not diminish the need for care and support.”

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Robin Hewings, program director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, agrees. “The good news is that some people can find a sense of community and make our homes a friendlier place,” she says. “However, this is probably a very small type of connection. To tackle longer-term loneliness, we need to ensure that lonely people are supported to reconnect with others and move on from their loneliness.”

With the recent release of AI chatbot ChatGPT – a human-like system that has gone viral for its impressive assimilation that can answer questions, write essays and perform helpful tasks – it’s safe to say that artificial intelligence is getting smarter than ever, super fast. . If you are in the market for an imaginary Seinfeld sceneor a A song about Elon Musk in the style of Bob Dylan for free,, ChatGPT can deliver that within seconds. There is no doubt that our smart devices will soon be able to perform these types of interactions. How long until we find ourselves developing friendships, or accidentally flirting with our smart speakers?

It’s hard to say whether these developments are exciting, worrying or sad – especially when you consider the marked gender bias in AI (another similar note to Her and Ex Machina) and all the voice assistants (for some may have a male preference. , but the default is always female), which angered people who subconsciously reaffirmed the idea that women are subservient and are there to “help “.

And while a full-blown romantic relationship with a lifeless cylinder probably isn’t on the cards just yet, it might not be that far off. A 2020 survey by WeVibe, a sex toy company, found that 14 percent of men they asked turned to the “comfortable and authoritative voice” of their smart speaker. Smart devices, now, can also control many other bits of technology, including vibration. Could this be a recipe for disaster?

When you tell Alexa, “I’m lonely”, her advice isn’t about renewing your Amazon Prime subscription, and it’s actually pretty solid when it comes to generating real human connection. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she says. “Talking to a friend, listening to music or going for a walk can help. I hope you feel better soon.” But could we guide people towards more helpful services, or encourage a connection to break out of the cold silence left when the device is turned off?

Support provision like this should be at least as small, however – and they could go further (although they do help people with disabilities a lot). Friends of mine use smart speakers all the time, but it’s safe to say they wouldn’t choose chatting with Siri over going to the pub. Maybe we should be looking at the root causes of isolation in this country before we start blaming the little machine in the corner.

Maybe our evil overlords aren’t really evil after all…





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