Why Are Voice Assistants so Dumb?

The voice assis­tant seemed so cool and made so much sense. What happened?

If you fol­low Inter­net of Shit, you already know. This Bloomberg sto­ry about Alexa adop­tion sug­gests even the biggest play­ers in voice-enabled hard­ware are strug­gling to find their why. 

We have sev­er­al Echos in our house, all of which are used for extreme­ly banal rea­sons that are just eas­i­er than con­nect­ing dumb speak­ers by blue­tooth for the most part, or press­ing but­tons on an oven timer. Of course, they were envi­sioned as trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­o­gy, not egg timers.

Bloomberg does­n’t go deep on this, but points to the over­all onboard­ing expe­ri­ence as being where users seem to check out, if not short­ly there­after. Some of the com­plaints are famil­iar: in an effort to get you to do more with the device, it starts ask­ing you if you’d like to try new skills, few of which have any rel­e­vance to what you’ve been doing with it.

Dieter Bohn wrote how we’re still get­ting voice assis­tants wrong for the Verge in 2019 and if you search the title of this post, you’ll find no short­age of com­men­tary. Heck, Android Author­i­ty asked their read­ers if they used them and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty said no. To be clear, this isn’t that they strug­gle with nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing — they absolute­ly do — it’s also that they don’t seem to con­nect to any pat­terns in usage and then devel­op intel­li­gence built around it. Isn’t this what AI and machine learn­ing is all about to the layperson?

It’s not just Alexa; it’s every voice assis­tant I’ve ever used. If you’ve found any Alexa skills or rou­tines use­ful, share them below.

Stereogum on Pitchfork Music Festival

Stere­ogum’s Tom Brei­han on the Pitch­fork Music Festival:

I find some­thing quizzi­cal and hon­or­able in this: A whole fes­ti­val built around music that is not, in any way, designed for par­ty­ing. In a way, isn’t that the log­i­cal end­point of a decade-plus of inter­net music con­sump­tion? We’ve all spent all this time find­ing music on our com­put­ers and pip­ing that music direct­ly into our ears, rarely if ever hav­ing real-life con­ver­sa­tions about some of the artists who mean the most to us. Why shouldn’t we be ded­i­cat­ing entire fes­ti­vals to that same anti­so­cial experience?

Need a #latepass here, but I’m not alto­geth­er sure what this is about. I attend­ed the show Sat­ur­day with a friend, cour­tesy of Pitch­fork, and found myself chat­ting with present and for­mer Pitch­fork crit­ics, as well as the Super Fur­ry Ani­mals in the VIP.

There was also a mas­sive crowd in Union Park singing “Bar­bara Ann” as I left. It sound­ed about the same as when I first expe­ri­enced the Beach Boys 30 years ago at the Great Allen­town Fair.

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon

The way MTV Geek’s Alex Zal­ben described Hawk­eye to Jesse Thorn on Bulls­eyemade it sound like Amer­i­can Splen­dor with a bow and arrow. He was­n’t wrong. I just fin­ished read­ing #10 and I’m ready for more. 

Beau­ti­ful­ly drawn and bril­liant­ly writ­ten, Hawkeye’s life out­side the Avengers is pos­i­tive­ly spell­bind­ing. The issue ded­i­cat­ed to Hur­ri­cane Sandy may be one of the most mov­ing trib­utes imag­ined. The artists com­pris­ing Team Hawkguy are doing some­thing tru­ly special.

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom

Free­dom will be remem­bered as a sto­ry that cap­tures a very strange chap­ter in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. It’s hard to put a fin­ger on it, but the mood of the last decade is some­thing Franzen nails. His char­ac­ters rep­re­sent the amoral fugue state we drift­ed off into col­lec­tive­ly after 2003. I’m not even sure his hol­lowed out char­ac­ters could real­is­ti­cal­ly course cor­rect, yet they do, and for that rea­son I was some­what dis­ap­point­ed in the novel.

Equal­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, alt-coun­try act Wal­nut Sur­prise rep­re­sent­ed one of the worst musi­cal move­ments of the decade. We have only our­selves to blame.