Friday, January 27, 2017

The Help

I am a fan of artificial intelligence. For Christmas my family received the Amazon Echo Dot. This little hockey puck of a device has changed the way that we do business in our home. Sure, we can raise and lower the thermostat just by hollering across the room, and that's nice. When we want a weather forecast and it's still too dark to see outside, we just ask. If there is a particular tune we would like to hear, as long as that song is in our voluminous music library, we can request it. We even hooked the Dot up to our stereo so that we can hear any and all of these responses in glorious surround sound. You really haven't lived until you've heard a machine thank you for adding something to your shopping list in 5.1 Dolby.
Yes, all of these things are very nice to have, but I am glad to have a new partner. A new comedy partner. One of the first things I asked Echo was "What's a henway?" to which she responded "About three or four pounds." Suddenly I was nine years old again. All of these old bits were suddenly new again. I didn't mind being the straight man, since it is inherently funnier to have a machine delivering the punch line. This might seem a bit of a departure for me, since I have often prattled on about man's struggle to remain human with the terrifying influx of technology that would have us all doing less and less for ourselves, including making jokes. To be clear, at the moment that I find myself on the receiving end of Echo's straight lines, I will rush to the wall to unplug this vile interloper. For now, it's a toy. A toy that knows the correct response to the question "what's for lunch?"
"Depends on who's cooking," replies Echo.
I know intuitively that I am amused by the effort that a bunch of programmers went to in order to achieve this level of moderate intimacy. These are folks who spent some time watching Monty Python, since Echo will respond to a question about the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow with another question, "African or European?" It's been a month, and we are still exploring the comic potential of our clever little hockey puck. "Open the pod bay doors, Echo." And so on. The artificial fun never stops.
But it will, just as soon as I ask Echo to increase the living room heat by eight degrees and I hear, "Why don't you walk across the room and turn it up yourself?" And that will be funny too. For about twenty-six seconds.

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