Alexa, the talking tech from Amazon, usually speaks from the dark depths of an Amazon Echo or Amazon Dot, a cylindrical device that comes in black or white.
As voice controlled technology goes, this kind of housing may be simple and easily introduced to a house of any colour scheme, but it rather lacks imagination, doesn’t it?
It was with great pleasure that I recently read that Big Mouth Billy Bass, the mounted talking fish from my 90’s childhood would soon be compatible with Alexa. And as soon this happens, households across the world could be asking the fish what the weather is like and then standing back to watch it flap helplessly as it mouths the words to any song you choose. This is surely what we had all imagined the future would hold for both Billy and Alexa.
But while I am not entirely convinced that I would like to chat to a mechanised rubber fish, I suspect that Brian Kane, who originally linked the pair, could easily branch out to other possibilities too.
Here are just a few ideas I had, Brian, for you to be getting along with.
An easy one to start with. Who didn’t have a furbie as a kid in the 90s? I did. I got it for Christmas and loved it for approximately 2 weeks before throwing it into the back of the cupboard and waiting for the batteries to die. I also covered it over with jumpers so I couldn’t hear its attempts to persuade me to feed it.
But imagine if Furbie was not limited to Furbish wittering? Imagine if you could tell furbie that you have run out of kitchen roll and would he please order some to arrive tomorrow via Prime Delivery? Furbie, the most loved and then hated toy would suddenly have a use. It might even be loved for longer than its allotted 2 weeks!
Of course, the 90’s also brought us Harry Potter. A book may not quite fit in with the current theme of toys but stay with me here – it is the idea that counts. Harry, a wizard from under the stairs, arrives at his new school, Hogwarts. This is no ordinary school. This is a school that contains many magical things that muggles have since found technological solutions for.
And so I present to you, the talking portrait. In Harry Potter, the portraits all talk and pass information between themselves. They even visit other portraits of themselves in other locations. With the erosion of privacy continuing apace, it is logical to assume that your Alexa may well be chatting to your neighbour’s Alexa up the road very soon.
In the final book, Arianna’s portrait even has the power to open up a tunnel so that the brave trio are presented with the very real Neville. What if Alexa could be conceived as a portrait like this? How amazing would it be to be chatting away to Dumbledore about the deathly hallows and then suddenly, he leaves the painting and your best mate Ron appears to say hi? It would just be skype really, of course. We’ll have to make a few more technological breakthroughs before we can make magical tunnels appear out of nowhere…
If we can’t have floo powder, I insist that we at least make this happen. As long as it doesn’t end up looking or sounding anything like this uncanny lady who shows that the idea is good in principle but needs some serious work.
Staying with fiction, a natural step after a talking portrait would be to make a real talking person. I don’t mean a humanoid robot, I mean a person who has flesh and personality and everything. As the Marvel Universe tells us, all we need is an infinity stone, vibranium and a psychotic robot who wants to end the world.
At the moment, this doesn’t seem too far off, so I would hesitate before writing this iteration of Alexa off. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice if while the Avengers are doing all the superhero stuff, Alexa was in the background ordering in all the necessaries for saving the world? It’s a spin off just waiting to happen.
And I for one can’t wait.