Monday, March 8, 2021

Quote of the Day (Joe Queenan, on Music and Disharmony With Alexa)

“Basically, I don’t think that Alexa likes me. This may be because of a tiff we had a few months ago when I told Alexa to never, ever play smooth jazz in my presence. Never. The problem…is that it’s hard for an electronic assistant to determine what constitutes smooth jazz when you issue a generic command: ‘Alexa, play jazz.’ Alexa doesn’t know that traditional jazz—Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong—is divine, while smooth jazz—a surprisingly tenacious, satanic leftover from the 1990s—is what you listen to when you are on hold for a dental appointment.

“And in these cases, I suspect that I may have taken on an abusive tone, questioning Alexa’s intelligence and sophistication. And yes, perhaps even swearing at her. Which was just not right. Even though Alexa was clearly in the wrong.”—Joe Queenan, “Moving Targets: If Alexa Won’t Talk To Me, What Hope Is There?,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6-7, 2021

Oh, those electronic assistants! Even when they speak in voices users like (a relative of mine has programmed his to sound like an Australian female—an awful lot like Naomi Watts, maybe even Nicole Kidman), they still may leave something to be desired, as Queenan has discovered.

I know just how he feels. Recently, I commanded, “Hey Google, play Dinah Washington.” I should have known I wasn’t going to get quite what I expected when my “Google” (who sounds like a female consultant conducting human resource seminars for employees) announced that the selections would come from Spotify stations that play Dinah Washington. 

Sure enough, I was shortly hearing Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and other jazz luminaries.

Granted, it wasn’t the kind of assault on taste that raised Queenan’s hackles. But it leaves me thinking that technology still has a way to go before it replaces some essential human functions.

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