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Beacon Senior News

Be careful what you ask for

Nov 23, 2020 11:40AM ● By Michael Murphy
Voice-activated devices

As I gazed out the window one lovely morning, the tranquility was shattered by my neighbor sprinting down the sidewalk, screaming for help. Close behind was a howling lawnmower, nipping at his heels, its blade churning in a bloodlust.

“I’ll be danged,” I muttered, “my neighbor must have gotten one of those new smart mowers, the kind that is voice-activated. Looks like someone has already hacked it.”

I shook my head and headed back to the kitchen to call out to my new smart pancake maker, “Aunt Jemima, make breakfast.”

Sound far-fetched to you? Then it’s time to get you up to snuff on the technology craze taking over the world—voice-activated devices.

My wife just got a phone upgrade. Her old phone was basically limited to giving directions during our trips. But, boy, her new one has a lot more voice features and is very chatty. 

Personally, I thought it was bad enough when my wife would talk to the dog, and I’d frequently shout, “What?” from another room. Now, in addition to the dog, she is talking to her phone all the time, commanding things like “Siri, give me a recipe for left-over eggplant soup,” resulting in my shouting “What?” twice as often.

If you, like my wife, have an Apple device such as an iPhone, you can ask Siri for instant information. Concerned about the weather forecast? Just say, “Hey Siri, show me the weather radar map,” and the image will appear on your phone. Green means rain is coming, and blue says snow is imminent. If the approaching blob is purple, turn off the phone and head to the basement as fast as you can.

A big seller last holiday season was an Amazon device that responds to all sorts of voice commands. Now a person can come home, kick back on the couch, and boss around a gal named Alexa.

Just say, “Alexa, play ‘Jingle Bells’” and there’s a 50/50 chance she’ll get it right. Odds are pretty good that you’ll have several dental fillings pop out of your mouth as Alexa cranks up “Hells Bells”
by AC/DC.

Tell Alexa to order a pizza, and within minutes the doorbell will ring, and you’ll more than likely be greeted by a delivery guy handing you a fragrant bouquet of roses. Having one of these amazing devices will really liven up those boring evenings at home by keeping you guessing what will happen next.

Microsoft has another voice-activated device, named Cortana. One of its truly impressive abilities is that you can program it with photos and then command it to show specific ones. 

For example, let’s say you want to show off photos from your trip to Hawaii. You say, “Cortana, show Justin underwater on the wakeboard” and shazam! There’s Justin on the 65-inch HDTV screen wearing only his underwear and dancing on the bar at the tiki lounge. Oops, wrong picture!

Word to the wise: Be careful what you ask for. And don’t leave Cortana, Siri and Alexa alone in the same room for too long. Just imagine the stories they could share about you!

Mike Murphy retired after a 35-year teaching and coaching career. He has a master’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is an Associated Press award-winning columnist.