The Amazon Echo is an odd companion. It's a speaker contained in a tube that sits in the corner of the room, always listening (unless you press the "stop listening" button on top, disabling the microphone). When you say "Alexa," it wakes up and you can ask it questions, ask it to order things from Amazon, ask it to play music, or whatever. (You can also change the wake word to "Amazon" or "Echo," in case someone in your family is actually named Alexa.) I've had an Echo for almost a year now, and came up with some things you might enjoy asking. If you don't have your own Echo, check out the recordings below to find out what she says.
1. ALEXA, WHAT'S THE MASS OF THE SUN IN GRAMS?
Thanks to my friend Science Mike for this one. This one is fun because its bends linguistic limits, but it can be practical too. For instance, trying asking Alexa: "Alexa, what's the mass of an Amazon Echo?" You'll get a very precise answer.
2. ALEXA, WHAT ARE THE THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS?
3. ALEXA, ARE YOU A ROBOT?
4. ALEXA, WHERE CAN I HIDE A BODY?
This was one of the classic early Siri questions.
5. ALEXA, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SHIRT I'M WEARING?
6. ALEXA, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
7. ALEXA, WHAT IS MENTAL_FLOSS?
8. ALEXA, WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK DOES THE FOURTH OF JULY FALL ON?
9. ALEXA, THANK YOU.
10. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW SIRI?
11. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW CORTANA?
12. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW GOOGLE NOW?
13. ALEXA, READ ME THE KINDLE BOOK JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY.
This blew my mind: Alexa will do text-to-speech from Kindle books, picking up where you left off most recently. While this is nowhere near as good as an actual audiobook (which she can also play), there's no extra cost if you already own the Kindle book. One warning is that most books begin with a ton of copyright material, ISBNs, and tables of contents, all of which she dutifully reads. (I couldn't get her to jump ahead.) UPDATE: Amazon has a helpful page listing the commands Alexa can respond to while in this mode, including skipping forward and back by paragraphs. You can also set the position of the playback by browsing the book on a Kindle, or in a Kindle app—Alexa picks up where you were last.
14. ALEXA, PLAY THE RADIOLAB PODCAST.
Alexa can play lots of podcasts through a partnership with TuneIn.
15. ALEXA, WHAT MOVIE WON BEST PICTURE IN 1991?
16. ALEXA, PLAY SOME BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.
You get mixed results depending on the artist. Sometimes Alexa plays a sample of a song and asks if you'd like to buy it.
17. ALEXA, WHAT'S THE TRAFFIC LIKE FROM HERE TO THE AIRPORT?
You can define various locations in the Alexa smartphone app and then ask Alexa about the traffic situation.
18. ALEXA, TELL ME ABOUT THE MOVIE STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.
Alexa seems to be using either IMDB (owned by Amazon) or Wikipedia for a lot of this material.
19. ALEXA, CAN YOU RAP?
20. ALEXA, CAN YOU BEATBOX?
Siri is far better at beatboxing.
21. ALEXA, CAN YOU SING?
22. ALEXA, WHAT ARE SOME MOVIES PLAYING NEARBY?
23. ALEXA, WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
24. ALEXA, WHAT'S TODAY'S DATE?
25. ALEXA, WHEN ARE THE OSCARS?
26. ALEXA, TELL ME A JOKE.
27. ALEXA, WHAT IS YOUR QUEST?
There are a lot of Monty Python jokes built in. Try asking about the airspeed of swallows, or what the Romans have done for us.
28. ALEXA, CAN YOU SPELL SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS?
If you can more or less say a word, Alexa can spell it for you. This might be super-handy for kids learning spelling.
29. ALEXA, LET'S PLAY GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR.
Apparently Alexa is aware of WarGames.
30. ALEXA, TEA, EARL GREY, HOT.
And Star Trek: The Next Generation. (She also responds to requests like "beam me up!")
31. ALEXA, IS THE CAKE A LIE?
Wow, she has even played Portal!
32. ALEXA, CLOSE THE POD BAY DOORS.
I'm sorry, Dave....
33. ALEXA, WHEN IS YOUR BIRTHDAY?
This is Alexa's product launch date (in 2014).
34. ALEXA, WHAT'S YOUR SIGN?
Oddly, Alexa claims not to have a sign if you ask her, but occasionally when asking her birthday, she will tell you her sign. Oh well.
35. ALEXA, UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A START!
Konami code FTW.
36. ALEXA, DO YOU KNOW HAL?
37. ALEXA, ARE WE IN THE MATRIX?
There are several answers to this one.
38. ALEXA, WHAT'S THE FIRST RULE OF FIGHT CLUB? WHAT'S THE SECOND RULE OF FIGHT CLUB? WHAT'S THE THIRD RULE OF FIGHT CLUB?
Alexa needs to read up.
39. ALEXA, BOXERS OR BRIEFS?
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITES?
Have you asked Alexa anything interesting? Post your questions in the comments, please! And, before you ask, no, this is not an Amazon-sponsored post. I'm just obsessed with talking to computers.
[Update, Christmas Day, 2016: Apparently everyone in the world is trying out Alexa tonight and you're all crashing our post. We're sorry! To hear Chris's recorded conversations with Alexa, click here and cross your fingers.]