CLOSE
Original image
Amazon

What Happens When Someone Named Alexa Buys an Amazon Echo?

Original image
Amazon

Ever since Robby the Robot first popped onto the screen in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet—and likely well before—humans have preferred to personalize their artificial intelligence by naming it. Apple labeled its voice recognition software Siri; IBM’s supercomputer was dubbed Watson. More recently, Amazon has been peddling its Echo smart home device that responds to voice commands by using the name "Alexa." To tell it to order more laundry detergent or turn down the thermostat, users usually begin by addressing it by the company’s preprogrammed name.

But what happens when someone in your home is also named Alexa? Won’t things get confusing or annoying, and quickly?

Per The Wall Street Journal [PDF], the answer is a resounding yes. With Alexa being the 39th most popular girl’s name of 2006, households across the country have been scowling at their Echos in frustration. At the Sussman home in New York, the Journal reported, college-aged daughter Alexa is often confused for Amazon’s Alexa. When her father once asked his offspring for some water, Echo perked up and offered to order 24 bottles of Fiji.

The device also likes to chime in whenever it hears a name that bears a vague resemblance. If a television character or human blurts out “Alexa” or “Alex,” it might try to obey whatever follows.

Fortunately, the Echo has a little-known feature that can resolve the problem for affected households. With the Echo’s smartphone control panel app, the device’s “wake word”—the word it recognizes in order to begin paying attention to commands—can be changed to “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “computer.” If you don't like any of those, you could always just change your human’s name instead.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
Mario Tama, Getty Images
arrow
technology
People With Limited Mobility Can Now Use Amazon Alexa to Control Exoskeletons
Original image
Mario Tama, Getty Images

One of the challenges that comes with engineering exoskeletons that compensate for limited mobility is giving control to the people who wear them. Some systems use hand controls, while others can detect faint signals in the wearer’s muscles and respond accordingly. Now one exoskeleton startup is taking advantage of a technology that’s become mainstream in recent years: voice recognition.

As Engadget reports, Bionik Laboratories has integrated Amazon’s Alexa into its ARKE lower-body exoskeleton. The apparatus is designed for people with spinal chord damage or a history of stroke or traumatic brain injury that has hindered their movement below the waist. After strapping into the suit, wearers will now be able to use it just as they would a television set or stereo enabled with Alexa. Saying “Alexa, I’m ready to stand,” brings the joints to an upright position, and the command “Alexa, I’m ready to walk” prompts the legs to move forward. An Amazon Echo device must be within hearing range for the voice control to work, so in its current state the exoskeleton is only good for making short trips within the home.

Compatibility with Alexa isn’t the only modern feature Bionik worked into the design. The company also claims that ARKE is the first exoskeleton with integrated tablet control. That means if users wish to adjust their suit manually, they can do so by typing commands into a wireless touchpad. The tablet also records information that physical therapists can use to make more informed decisions when treating the patient.

Before the ARKE suit can be made available to consumers, it must first undergo clinical trials and receive approval from the FDA. If the tests go as planned Bionik hopes to have a commercial version of the product ready by 2019.

[h/t Engadget]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Including Smiley Emojis in Your Work Emails Could Make You Look Incompetent
Original image
iStock
If you’re looking to give your dry work emails some personality, sprinkling in emojis may not be the smartest strategy. As Mashable reports, smiley emojis in professional correspondences rarely convey the sentiments of warmth that were intended. But they do make the sender come across as incompetent, according to new research. For their paper titled "The Dark Side of a Smiley," researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel looked at 549 subjects from 29 countries. After reading emails related to professional matters, participants were asked to judge the "competence and warmth" of the anonymous sender. Emails that featured a smiley face were found to have a "negative effect on the perception of competence." That anti-emoji bias led readers to view the actual content of those emails as less focused and less detailed than the messages that didn’t include emojis. Previous research has shown that sending emojis to people you’re not 100 percent comfortable with is always a gamble. That’s because unlike words or facial expressions, which are usually clear in their meanings, the pictographs we shoot back and forth with our phones tend to be ambiguous. One study published last year shows that the same emoji can be interpreted as either positive or negative, depending on the smartphone platform on which it appears. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate effectively without leaning on emojis to make you look human. Here are some etiquette tips for making your work emails sound clear and competent. [h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios