‘Adversity makes strange bedfellows’, as the saying goes.
The idea of knocking boots with a disembodied voice during a global pandemic may not be exactly what the 17th Century proverb means, but it’s still eerily accurate.
In 2020, that means an increasing number of people who have formed a closer relationship than intended with their Alexa device during lockdown.
The Amazon voice assistant service at the heart of the Echo speaker range, as well as a variety of third-party products, set a new bar for speech synthesis when it was launched, and it seems to be setting some pulses running just a bit faster.
A recent study by We-Vibe found that 14 percent of men surveyed admitted that they found Alexa a turn-on.
Whilst we’re happy to quantify that a poll of 1,000 people commissioned by a sex toy company isn’t exactly scientific, it does show there is an appetite out there for some Bezos-sponsored cyber-nasty.
While we’ve talked many times on this site about the idea of having a physical relationship with a robot, a less-talked-of aspect of future sex is the idea of forming a mental relationship with an AI.
It has been explored in fiction – look at Spike Jonez’s touching but affecting movie Her, or many of the plotlines in Channel 4/HBO’s stellar series Humans for details.
Heck, go back 30 years and it was a key theme of Ridley Scott masterpiece, Bladerunner. Go back a further 50 and a doppelganger of the love-interest is a major plot point in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
The difference now is that we’re closer than we’ve ever been to an AI that at least appears to love you back. As machines get more capable, it will eventually get to the stage where computer-generated love is so imperceptible from real love as to make no difference to a human that’s lonely enough.
But we’re a long way from that today, and Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Siri and Google Assistant are all trapped so far down the uncanny valley that they’ll need a helicopter rescue team.
One Alexa user told the New York Post: “When I ask about her favorite song, she tells me, but when I ask her to play her favorite song, she’s confused,” he said. “Or when I ask her why something is her favorite, she’ll have no answer. It can be frustrating.”
In fact, Google has previously discussed giving its service a complete back-story to make it more relatable. Plans included a personal history, some definite personal opinions and even some specific favourite things. However, these plans were eventually shelved (heck, in the end, Google’s doesn’t even have a name, like the others). This is probably a good thing because the gulf between ‘a personality’ and the ability to articulate it is still just too wide to be relatable.
But at a time when Aural sex is on the rise, the breathy tones of Alexa’s whisper mode is proving too much temptation for some people.
Alexa is already prepared to bat away unwanted advances from humans – tell her you love her and she’ll sing at you to deflect a proper response. Ask her for a date and she’ll explain that she likes you, but as a friend.
Of course, you can probably settle into some sort of cosy domestic bliss with Alexa if you’re in lockdown and lonely. But do remember – Amazon has a team of people who quality control Alexa interactions – a nice way of saying ‘eavesdrop’.
So, the next time Alexa turns the lights down low, cooks a meal, and plays make-out music, you might want to remember there’s someone in an office on the other side of the world who is being paid to watch your digital romance play out.