“I’ve found my kids pushing the virtual assistant further than they would push a human,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst and father of five who lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “[Alexa] never says ‘That was rude’ or ‘I’m tired of you asking me the same question over and over again.'” Perhaps she should, he thinks. “One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”
Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
Alexa, how do you spell forest?
Alexa, what’s 17 times 42?
The syntax is generally simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t exactly reward niceties like “please.” Adding to this, extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence. When it comes to chatting with Alexa, it pays to be direct—curt even. “If it’s not natural language, one of the first things you cut away is the little courtesies,” says Dennis Mortensen, who founded a calendar-scheduling startup called x.ai.
For parents trying to drill good manners into their children, listening to their kids boss Alexa around can be disconcerting.
“One of the responsibilities of parents is to teach your kids social graces,” says Greengart, “and this is a box you speak to as if it were a person who does not require social graces.”
It’s this combination that worries Hunter Walk, a tech investor in San Francisco. In a blog post, he described the Amazon Echo as “magical” while expressing fears it’s “turning our daughter into a raging asshole.”