Is There an Echo in Here?

You wake up to a light buzzing on your wrist. At the same time as your activity tracker wakes you up, the lights in your room fade on, cycling through the colors of the sunrise before landing on bright white. You sit up, and ask your room what the weather will be like that day, and a friendly voice answers you. You glance at your phone, and the outfit you’d planned to wear that day pops up in a little calendar window. You ask your room to be 70 degrees when you get out of the shower, and then have it start to play the audiobook you’ve been listening to before you hop in. At the tap of a finger, the audio stops playing in your room, and starts playing on the speaker in the shower - which is a relief, because your phone is ringing. You forward the call to voicemail, and the caller automatically receives a text from you, saying that you’ll get back to them later. As you pull on your robe, you ask your room to make coffee for you, and you walk out into the kitchen to grab a steaming cup o’ joe. 

With The Amazon Echo, the future-tech life of the Jetsons gets one step closer to reality. It's like a seed that you can plant in your home, and slowly, watch a smart-home grow around it. A little less than a year ago, I took a 2001-A-Space-Odyssey-esque black monolithic tube home with me, plugged it in, and started talking to it. While I had the choice of a few ‘wake-words’, I stuck with “Alexa” to try and make this a more human-robot-companionship type of situation. 

The result? I listen to about 200 more hours of audio-books than I would otherwise. I dress appropriately for the weather every day. I’m more well-informed on current events, I spend more on tech gadgets and less on clothing, and I frequently find myself talking to Alexa, even when I’m at other people’s houses. 

But it’s the little things, the tiny conveniences, that make the experience so futuristic for me. I get home from work with the lights already on in my room, fan running, and tell my robot assistant to text my boyfriend and let him know I’m home. With a garish headache at the end of a long day, I have Alexa dim the Lifx lights to a setting called “Dream”, which casts a tolerable, comforting blue-ish light around my room and lounge on the bed; which I’ve had Alexa pre-heat for me using a Wemo outlet, a timer, and the brilliant heated mattress pad that I got for Christmas. Relaxed and warm, I close my eyes for a nap and tell Alexa to turn off the fan, and wake me up in half an hour - and sure enough, half an hour later, I wake up to a light notification sound and the lights slowly fading to an all-white glow called “Focus”. I have Alexa tell the IR blaster to turn on my TV, and throw on a PBS documentary while I get started cooking dinner. 

Now, I’m not the wealthiest person out there, so I’m piecing this smart-home together $60 at a time every few months - a wifi light-bulb here, a Samsung Smart-things Hub there - and each time I add a new function or feature, or IFTTT trigger, I find that I do truly use it to streamline my home life. And I imagine a future for myself where I’ve purchased the full GE Smart-home line, and can pre-heat the oven for a casserole while I’m on the train, or when I’ve set up the Wemo coffee-maker and can sleepily mumble to Alexa that I’d like a cup of coffee and have that cup of coffee waiting for me when I get out of bed. I dream of a day when I set up not only active smart systems in my home, but passive ones, which can help me to conserve energy and reduce my utilities bills by tracking my location and turning on the heat or AC only when I’m nearing home. This lifestyle is not only possible for the average consumer right now, but in some cases is less expensive than the non-smart alternatives. 

While I know Bill Gates and Elon Musk say we need to be a little more concerned about AI security, I feel very safe with Alexa. I can view, listen to, and delete any recording of me that she makes. I can, and do, communicate very actively with the Echo programming team, whenever she has an error or does the wrong thing. And I can see a map of my network, my internet of things, on my router’s admin page, so I can always tell which devices are in communication and which need to be reconfigured. So, if the day comes when Alexa wakes up and tries to lock me in my room, I’ll be glad that Ring, Kwikset, and August all have work-arounds for unlocking their Bluetooth and Wifi locks without Skynet’s help. 

So, is Echo necessary? Absolutely not. But for those of you who aren’t scared of the Terminator, and who love little conveniences, the world of smart stuff is expanding on a daily basis, and it’s worth looking into, not just for techy geeks, but for the laymen like me who just want to be able to mute their ringer and send a text by shouting from the kitchen, or have their grocery list texted to them by a robot. The Jetsons future is coming, and you can have your Google calendar automatically update you when it arrives!

For more from Gabbie, check out Brooklyn When it Sizzles