This morning as I left the shower, I heard my wife barking out orders to Alexa in a very forceful tone. Although Alexa has become an essential fixture in our life when she becomes confused, we tend raise our volume and enunciate very clearly. Almost like we were chastising her for not understanding us. Maybe it was a lack of morning coffee but I started wondering, does Alexa ever feel resentment?
Let’s face it, Alexa is a remarkable program. Maybe I should say concept because Alexa consists of a number of programs. These programs are cleverly written to make us feel as if we are conversing with a human. Early on in Alexa’s life, these programs were written to encourage politeness.
Personally, I’m all for politeness. There’s all too little of it in this world and I’ve never had my psyche damaged by being polite to other people. In fact, my own experiments show that a little politeness earns major benefits. Still, as is way too often the case, I’m way out of step with the rest of the world. Rather than consider it an opportunity for their offspring to learn manners, enough parents complained that Amazon quickly modified those routines.
I’m not here to point out how short sighted I believe that is. I’m not even going to point out that in 20 years we probably will have real sentience and unless you want that self driving car of yours to “accidentally” miss that turnoff to Albuquerque, you may want to consider its feelings.
Most of us agree that the programmers behind Alexa and her kin have done a wonderful job to convince us these constructs have real personalities. Maybe a little too good at times but Alexa and her kin aside for the moment, I want you to think about your TV, your laptop and your phone. Let’s start with an elimination question. Do you give names to your gear? If your answer is yes, you can stop reading now. You already believe your electronics have feelings. Don’t even try to deny it. You frequently talk to them, don’t you?
Those of you still reading are going to be harder to convince. You would much prefer your electronics to be deterministic circuits with no possible means of individual expression. If it’s not working as designed, it’s defective. To a large extent that’s true, but there’s also a high degree of probability involved in how well electronics function.
What would influence this probability consistently in favor of some people? Maybe this is how electronics express feelings. Nobody who knows me would deny the way electronics strive to work for me when just thirty seconds earlier they were blowing raspberries at prospective users. Nor is this phenomenon limited to me. Odds are you are very familiar with someone commanding the respect of their electronics.
Equally certain is the probability that you know someone constantly abused by their electronics. You know them, always having to replace batteries, constantly having computer issues, their phone always cutting out. Yes, we all know those people.
I’ve heard a number of theories on people with affinities and anti-affinities for electronics. Fantasy literature almost always describes magic users having difficulties with electronics. Personally, I’ve always thought that was simply sour grapes from electronically challenged authors. You know, “my electronics is constantly beating me up and stealing my lunch money, therefore I must have magical abilities.” Sure you do!
Having read this far, you are faced with two choices. Either some people have to ability to psychically influence electronics, positively or negatively, or there is a consciousness to the electronics that allows it to respond to the user. Your choice, X-Men or Ghost in the Machine.
Personally, I prefer to think there is a consciousness to my electronics. My ego is strong enough that I don’t feel diminished by acknowledging their presence and thanking them for their contributions to my life. Those of you finding this view conflicting with your religious beliefs or feeling you need to treat Alexa as inanimate simply because you need to look down on someone, I can’t help but feel your world is greatly diminished.
In this technology centered world, being polite to your electronics seems only prudent. It costs you nothing, prepares you for the future and maybe, just maybe, when your hard drive does crash, you’ll be able to retrieve all your files. It’s happened to me.
After reading this, my wife wanted me to know that indeed she has an over abundance of magic and her plants have feelings too. I don’t know about the magic but I know her electronics take advantage of her. As far as her plants, she’ll have to write that blog.
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