Amazon's Echo "home automation device" can perform simple tasks with a voice command to its virtual genie, Alexa. It's Siri for people who are too lazy to pick up their phone to learn who shot J.R., view the weather forecast in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, or calculate how much wood a woodchuck can chuck.
However, one of the things Alexa apparently cannot do quite so well is determine who her master is. During a recent NPR broadcast about Alexa and the Echo, listeners at home noticed strange activity on their own Echo devices. Any time the radio reporter gave an example of an Alexa command, several Alexas across the country pricked up their ears and leapt into action -- with surprising results.
"Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees," wrote NPR on a blog recounting the tale. Jeff Finan told NPR that when his Alexa "heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary." And Marc-Paul Lee's device had such a delightful reaction that NPR declined to mention the specifics.
The Echo has proved to be a money-spinner for Amazon, and was its best-selling $100-plus item on Black Friday. One of its biggest fans appears to be Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: In an interview with CNBC this week, Wozniak said he considers the virtual assistant "a wonderful part of our life" at his home, saying he considers the Echo "the next big platform for the near future" thanks to its flexibility. "You can just say, 'Get me an Uber,' and it does ... you can say, 'Get me some paper towels,' and if it knows your last order on Amazon, it orders it right there," he told CNBC.
For its part, NPR relished the accidentally interactive nature of its broadcast, responding on its blog, "Alexa, listen up -- we want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me?"