Immediately, the computer living inside her Amazon Echo speaker stopped playing her favorite music station. Simultaneously, Mrs. Sussman’s 24-year-old daughter, Alexa, froze on the stairs.
“What, mom? I’m taking the laundry down,” human Alexa shouted back. “What do you need?”
The artificial-intelligence invasion is upon us, in the form of disembodied personal assistants we can give orders to, query and, in some cases, try to converse with. In hopes of getting us used to our new artificially intelligent family members, the technology companies behind them have given the machines mostly female names to go with their soothing voices.
Apple Inc. picked “Siri.” Microsoft Corp. chose “Cortana.” ( Alphabet Inc.’s Google opted to keep its software nonhuman, calling it “Assistant.”) Amazon.com Inc.’s choice, as it happens, was the 39th most popular girl’s name in the U.S. in 2006. That means in some homes the plan has backfired: The effort to make a gadget more humanlike has earned it human enemies.
In the Sussmans’ household in Levittown, N.Y., the confusion cuts both ways. Last week, when human Alexa’s father, Dean, asked her to grab some water from the kitchen, Amazon’s Alexa wanted to help, too. “Amazon’s choice for water is Fiji Natural Artesian Water, pack of 24. It’s $27.27, including tax. Would you like to buy it?”
Arlo Gilbert, 41, says Siri often gets confused when he speaks to his daughter, Sari. “Hey, Sari, dinner time!” results in a chorus of iPhone and iPad dings and Siri boasting that “this is what I found on the Web for dinner time.” Mr. Gilbert decided to disable the “Hey Siri” wake word on all his devices to have a “functional life.”
You don’t even need to live with someone with a robot-likename to experience confusion. Jordann Mitchell, 27, jumped across the room a few weeks ago when watching her new favorite sitcom, “Schitt’s Creek.” Alexis, the main character on the Canadian show, was told by her dad to order 12 pints of milk. “The Echo lit up and I immediately started yelling, ‘No, no, no!’ Thank goodness she didn’t order the milk,” Ms. Mitchell says.
The Neitzel family learned that the hard way. Six-year-old Brooke Neitzel walked up to the Echo on the kitchen counter while her parents were in the other room with their two sons. “Alexa, can you play dollhouse with me? Get me a dollhouse,” she asked her new robot friend. Two days later, a $150 KidKraft Sparkle Mansion showed up at the Neitzel house in Dallas. They later donated it to a local hospital.
That story caught the attention of national news outlets. On Jan. 6, Brooke appeared on “Good Morning America” and explained to anchor Robin Roberts, “I told Alexa to order me a dollhouse and some cookies.”
Amazon Echoes and Echo Dots around the country started to perk up, including one in Allison Jeannotte’s kitchen in Boston. “My Alexa heard the clever girl on TV, lit up and said the most common search for a dollhouse was the KidKraft Sparkle mansion, would I like to buy it,” says Ms. Jeannotte.
http://www.wsj.com/articles/alexa-stop- ... 1485448519
But why are these techno butlers always female names? I want one named Donald.
part of the reason for the preference tech companies seem to have for female identities for their robots is that higher-frequency voices are easier to understand. Also, he says, “women are generally seen as more approachable, nurturing and, in some contexts, compliant.”