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Amazon wants Alexa, its smart personal assistant, to become an integral part of your day-to-day living.

She can play music, set alarms, search Google, update you on the latest news, give you a weather forecast, control your smart home, and even order things from Amazon using nothing more than voice commands.

Sounds great. But is she really that “smart” 20 Echo Skills That Show Alexa's Not Always So Smart 20 Echo Skills That Show Alexa's Not Always So Smart Despite all the things that you can do with Alexa out of the box, its extensibility via Skills is far more intriguing. Here are 20 Echo Skills that may surprise you! Read More ? There’s no doubt voice-controlled assistants are the future, but is Alexa the solution?

Perhaps not. In this article, I’m going to argue Alexa is actually rather stupid.

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You’re Talking to a Speaker

If you think talking to plants is daft, you’re in for a shock. There’s no getting around this, you’re having a conversation with an inanimate object. At least plants are alive.

Alexa is hardly the only culprit Amazon Echo vs. Google Home vs. Apple's Competitor Amazon Echo vs. Google Home vs. Apple's Competitor In this article, you'll learn the differences between the Amazon Echo and Google Home. We'll also take a look at what features an Apple speaker may include. Read More . Siri and Google Now use a similar approach and an increasing number of smart home gadgets rely on voice control.

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Children being born into today’s hi-tech world might be more comfortable with the notion of talking to tech by the time they reach adulthood. However, for adults who’ve grown up in the pre-internet era, it feels ridiculous.

Yelling at your coffee table to find out information is both disconcerting and entirely unnatural. Want to know what the weather is like? Look out the window. Want to listen to music? Turn on the radio.

Yes, technology moves on. But until Amazon finds a way to make Alexa a lot more personal, it’s unlikely to catch on with the public at large.

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Sell, Sell, Sell

Amazon tells us Alexa is all about making our lives easier. The information on Amazon’s website makes lots of reference to speed, ease-of-use, and integration.

It feels like Amazon is hiding something from us. Amazon doesn’t produce weather reports, own a search engine, or develop productivity apps. Amazon is a shop, it wants to sell us things.

It might be cynical, but it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that Alexa is an elaborate way to make us buy more stuff. After all, the company is already inventive in this area. Drone deliveries Will Amazon Drones Really Be Arriving at a Backyard Near You? Will Amazon Drones Really Be Arriving at a Backyard Near You? Amazon thinks they've cracked the delivery code. By using unmanned, automated drones, they'll be able to get packages into the hands of buyers in 30 minutes or less. Read More , Prime subscriptions, groceries-on-demand Is Amazon Prime Pantry Worth Your Money? 5 Things You Need to Know Is Amazon Prime Pantry Worth Your Money? 5 Things You Need to Know Prime Pantry lets you shop for groceries right from the Amazon homepage—but is it a good deal? Will it save you money? We look at all the facts. Read More , and even RFID-based supermarkets are all now a “thing”. All are meant to increase the volume of things you consume, by making it more convenient for you to consume.

Currently, Alexa’s shopping functionality is limited to Prime members 6 Amazon Prime Benefits You Might Be Ignoring Right Now 6 Amazon Prime Benefits You Might Be Ignoring Right Now Scratch the surface. Amazon Prime has so many more benefits that people have forgotten about or simply don't realize exist. Read More who want to reorder products they’ve bought before. But if Alexa proves to be a hit, you can bet she’ll quickly become the front end for the Amazon store, ready to debit your credit card every time you open your mouth.

Don’t Call Your Daughter Alexa

Seriously, don’t. There’s nothing wrong with the name “Alexa” — it’s very pretty — but the way the technology’s voice recognition works Alexa, How Does Siri Work? Voice Control Explained Alexa, How Does Siri Work? Voice Control Explained The world is moving towards voice commands for everything, but how exactly does voice control work? Why is it so glitchy and restricted? Here's what you need to know as a layman user. Read More will make your life a nightmare.

The Amazon Echo speaker, home of Alexa, is “always listening”. As soon as it hears the word “Alexa” it springs to life, ready to help. It needs to work in this way, a smart assistant wouldn’t be very useful if you had to turn it on every time you needed help. At that point, it’d just be a watered-down version of a smartphone.

But it could create problems.

You can see it now: “Alexa, darling, would you mind picking up some washing detergent from the store later?” Amazon will have it on your doorstep before your daughter has even left the house.

BBC journalist Dave Lee recently wrote a piece in which he criticized Google Now for being too impersonal. “When I use Google Home, I’m forced to address a corporation”, he argued. It’s a fair point, but unless you’ve got sadistic naming tendencies it’s not going to wreak the same amount of havoc.

Get Her a Hearing Aid

Alexa needs her ears cleaned. If you’ve spent any time interacting with her, you’ll be all too aware of this mind-numbing phrase: “Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard.” There are only so many times you can hear the same sorry-not-sorry riposte before you give up and sling Alexa through the nearest window.

If you want quick information, it’s frustrating and time-consuming. It’s faster to check your phone instead. Even if she thinks she understood the question, she often didn’t.

“Alexa, what’s the right way to Walmart?”

“The right way to spell Walmart is W-A-L-M-A-R-T.”

Sound familiar? Stick with Google Maps.

Errors Have Consequences

Her shoddy hearing might give you a laugh, but it if starts to have serious consequences on your personal or professional life, it won’t be so funny.

For example, Amazon heavily promotes Alexa’s integration with apps 7 Creative Uses for Amazon Echo and Alexa 7 Creative Uses for Amazon Echo and Alexa You’ve seen the ads starring Alec Baldwin, but you're still not sure what Amazon Echo does or whether you need one in your home. We’re about to find out. Read More like Uber and Just Eat. But what happens when the delivery driver brings “Chicken and Cashew Nuts” to your door instead of “Chicken Chow Mein”? Who’s out of pocket? You can be sure the restaurant won’t care, and good luck with trying to get a refund from Amazon directly.

And what about adding events to your calendar? It’s hard to know how sympathetic your boss will be if you’re 12 hours late for a meeting because Alexa logged it at 8 PM rather than 8 AM.

They might be isolated incidents, but they do happen. And until Alexa improves significantly, they will continue to happen.

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Give Alexa a Pink Slip

Take responsibility for your own life. Are you really that lazy that you’re prepared to let an all-seeing, all-knowing corporation into your front room just to save you a few seconds?

It would be different if Alexa could reliably do all your tax returns or mow the lawn. They’re jobs that take considerable time and effort. But asking her to check the sports scores for me? No thanks.

Give Alexa a pink slip, she won’t hold it against you, I promise.

Do you use Alexa? Do you find her useful or useless? You can leave your experiences and opinions in the comments below.

Image Credit: Yeexin Richelle via Shutterstock.com

  1. Brian
    January 20, 2017 at 1:57 am

    Returning my echo. As an able bodied young man, I find it does not add to my life the value of its purchase price. Everything it does I can already do with current technology. It's just as easy to check news, stocks, sports, directions, calculations, etc on my phone or tablet. I'll chalk it up into the useless column.

  2. Simon Jones
    January 15, 2017 at 4:11 am

    I'm a patient man but simple things like "Alexa play what I'm listening to on my phone" confuse it! Or " Alexa play Ava Maria byAva Maria"..

  3. Ted
    January 5, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    Wow. I had to skim through this article. Many in this comments section have already expressed what I feel about the article, but I'll just say that it sounds very whiny. Whiny, whiny, whiny. Many of his complaints could be addressed by the way the phrase is worded. For example, why not ask Alexa, "What are the directions to Walmart?" I think his phrase is "stupid," to quote the article title. He, this Millennial, whines about talking to an inanimate object. So what? What's your point? Part of technology is learning how to use it. Sounds like he didn't learn how to use it.

    I remember when Amazon.com was declared "stupid" and the "experts" like the article author. proclaimed that Amazon.com "would never work." I'm sure Bezos is laughing at
    them.

    I've never visited MUO before, but if this is representative of what to find here, I will not be visiting again.

  4. Chuck
    January 4, 2017 at 6:29 am

    I agree - Echo Dot is going to join Edsels, and 8-track tapes in the technology bone yard. It tells time nicely - oh, and the weather fairly good. Flash briefing - lots of mis-info, and slanted media coverage. I've looked through all the available skills and am dizzy wondering why anyone thinks this is worth $50. Most encouraging is that AI isn't anything to worry about for a loooong time to come.

  5. Thomas Kainz
    January 1, 2017 at 5:38 am

    I really don't find negative based articles to be of any service whatsoever as long as they're factually based. This article was not. I'm not sure what the motive is... could it be to get the click through hits to drive up the ad revenue or just that you have something personal against Alexa or Amazon. Maybe you just like being negative? I guess it really doesn't matter. The end result is the same. Personally, I'm growing very weary of unjustified, overblown negativity.

    Consumer based AI is still in it's infancy and I personally can't wait until we have the likes of "Samantha" (from 'Her') on the other end of the digital hockey puck we now call Alexa but that period is still a long way off. Until that point, we have to train ourselves as much as we have to train Alexa. We have to know what "her" limitations are and how questions must be properly phrased to stand a close chance of getting the results we expect. So far, I haven't had any major issues with Alexa. I have not had to shout, with a few exceptions she's come up with the right answers to my questions, she's saved me time and effort and I'm having fun experimenting and finding out what all of her capabilities are.

  6. Bob Mehl
    December 31, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    This is the last time I visit this blog.

    • andy
      January 1, 2017 at 1:03 am

      Agreed. This site used to be positive and really helpful.

      This is negative pissy click bait. Bye guys! Shortcut deleted!

  7. Alex
    December 31, 2016 at 7:16 am

    The case should also be made that you're stupid. This article was blah-blah-blah, it won't tell me where Wal-Mart is (if you didn't already know where your local Wal-Mart was, you probably shouldn't operate machinery or wipe by yourself), more blah, I feel silly talking to a machine made for such things in my own home. It sounds like you're an angry old man with Alzheimer's and serious issues with technology moving forward, so you shouldn't be writing for a tech blog.

  8. Allan Hedges
    December 30, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Bought Amazon Echo when it first came out. Its a tin can full of rubbish. Most of the time it couldnt answer any question you ask it. Its data base is very poor its amazing it knows its own name. Sold it with in 2 weeks of purchase. Google is a much much much better assistant on my phone understands everything i ask it and answers everytime perfectly.

  9. One of the masses
    December 30, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    It's far easier to criticize than to create. This article is an obvious, oblivious and onerous attempt to use a corner of the web merely to harvest views and feedback by criticisizing a technology… a technology that the author himself could not conceive nor even fathom the possibilities of due to his shallow, short-sighted and self-oriented views. Perhaps this site should be called "how not to" Make Use Of.

  10. Kris
    December 30, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Alexa has been life changing for my blind husband. I find her as convenient as I do frustrating, but I have hopes it will get better. It is not the same as talking to a person, those of us that grew up pre-Internet need to learn how to talk to her to get the response we want. Also, when you ask her to order something, she repeats back the request and the cost and then asks for a confirmation. So your accusation that Amazon will be charging us for things we did not want is simply not true.

  11. Matthew Aguilera
    December 30, 2016 at 3:38 am

    This article is absolutely dumb. So your point is Alexa isn't "alive" so she shouldn't be used? It's a tool for everyday life not your friend. And you can change the wake word to something else.

  12. Sharron Koomen
    December 30, 2016 at 2:18 am

    I thoroughly enjoy alexa. I'm 62 years old, still working. Alexa is a toy for me, yes. I can ask her certain questions without finding my glasses to Google the information. Listening to music, changing genre's is super easy

  13. Molly
    December 30, 2016 at 1:04 am

    Weak article. Feels like a term paper written the night before it was due.

  14. gimmickassistant
    December 29, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    These things are a useless gimmick. Just use your smartphone.

    • likefunbutnot
      January 2, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      I've found Alexa devices most useful in places where I'm unlikely to have or want to handle a phone. I love having it in my kitchen and bathroom. Getting a news update while I'm showering or using it to time my baking is incredibly handy.

      I sincerely wish it had aa function that would allow it to read back written notes or email (see the post advice about users with adaptive disabilities), but dismissing the voice activation is at least mildly short sighted.

  15. John smart
    December 29, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    I got one for Christmas and having a lot of fun with it.
    That is the point, it is something to play around with , not something to take serious, at least not yet.
    This is the start and the technology will only improve over time, then we may use it for more important things.
    In the mean time have fun

  16. sarga
    December 29, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Alexa equals great voice integration with home automation and IFTTT. I haven't bought a single thing or asked it a single question. I have no use for that. But where else can you get a voice integration for home automation for $50?

    A tech website saying the future is stupid, is well...

  17. Yasser
    December 29, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Alexa is not perfect and may need lots of improvements over the next few years, it's early days for this tech. But hey man, just accept technology and the future and get on with it ?

  18. Scott
    December 29, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Rather than just bash your 'bash' article (since you were upfront that that's what this is). I'll add some helpful information related to some of the issues you've brought up. I've only had my Echo Dot for a few days so perhaps I just haven't hit these issues as much, however, my experience with it has been rather good so far. I find my favorite feature is the "Flash Briefing".

    1. "You're talking to a speaker" - actually you're talking to an AI on the Internet that uses a speaker to talk back. It's a simple but important distinction. Talking to a plant is pointless because the plant will never respond. Alexa, on the other hand, will.

    2. "Sell, sell, sell" - I think you've already covered the issue here. You are right that Amazon is primarily a store but are being rather cynical in thinking that that is all they do and/or plan to do with Echo.

    3. "Don’t Call Your Daughter Alexa" - If this were to become an issue for anyone, you can change the 'Wake Word' in the settings for the device. Unfortunately, there are currently only 3 options (Alexa, Amazon, and Echo) but those should suffice for most people I would think.

    4. "Get Her a Hearing Aid" - In my short time I've found the best way to resolve this is to 1) go through the "Voice Training" in the Alexa app, and 2) go through the Alexa app's Home section and mark the cards. Each new one will have a "Did Alexa do what you wanted?" section where you can mark 'yes' or 'no' to help the AI learn your speaking patterns better.

    5. "Errors Have Consequences" - This one I mostly agree with. It is an issue that I'm sure Amazon is aware of and is working to make the AI better at. For one, you mentioned the issue with the calendar entries, when I went to add a calendar entry for 2:00 with Alexa she asked me whether I meant 'morning' or 'afternoon'.

    All of this being said, I do agree that there are some issues that need to be fixed and I have confidence that they will be. My point in this comment is to provide some help to anyone that has been enjoying their Echo and would like to make their experience a little better rather than just "give Alexa a pink slip."

  19. likefunbutnot
    December 29, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    I have an Echo and several Dots. I don't care about any functionality save the ability to play audio, something she does quite well, handling requests for news, specific podcasts and Pandora stations quite well.

    The place where she falls down for me is playing classical music that's in my Amazon Music account. I have to name the entire title as it's listed on Amazon, which might be incorrect from the verbiage on the album itself. Amazon does not allow users to edit or correct metadata, so it insists that a title has to include the specific names of four classical works to be played via Alexa, that's what I have to do. If it insists that "The Collected Songs of Samuel Barber" is an Emerson String Quartet album and NOT a Samuel Barber, Thomas Hampson or Cheryl Struder one, I can't fix that.
    I can fix that by making playlists, but that's lame too, especially when I have literally thousands of albums on my Amazon account.

    Other than than, most of the issues with Alexa are just a matter of knowing how to speak to her.

  20. Johng
    December 29, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Clickbait garbage. Let me correct your title. Let's Face It: MUO is Stupid

  21. Bob
    December 29, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    I find your review useless. I find Alexa very useful. It was one of the most sold items on Amazon this Holiday season.

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