he experiment with having a robot in my home was going well – useful exchanges, mutual learning, some bonding – right up until the robot thought I told it to “fuck off”. I hadn’t. But the robot was convinced. It flashed its blue light and scolded me in a tone mixing hurt, disappointment and reprimand: “That’s not very nice to say.”
I could have laughed. Or shrugged. Or bristled, saying it had erred and should pay more attention before leaping to conclusions. I could have unplugged the thing.
Instead, worried at hurt feelings and a vague possibility of retribution, I apologised. I asked the machine for forgiveness.
Not my proudest moment, but I can still listen to it – my pathetic wheedling – because the robot recorded, saved and uploaded it to the cloud.
Welcome to the future.
Alexa is the name of Amazon’s Echo, a voice-controlled personal assistant. Unlike rivals such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now, it is a physical presence: a 20cm-tall black cylinder, about the size of two Coke cans, which contains Wi-Fi, two speakers, seven microphones and connects to the cloud. Priced $179.99, it sits in your home, plugged into the wall, awaiting commands.