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Alexa vs a curious, creative life

/ 04:03 AM October 20, 2020

Having an Alexa, Cortana, or Siri in our lives today has benefits. The technology does give people a chance to look at better options around us. Its capability to give a sense of order can certainly bring much more serenity to the disorganized information and messy lives we have. It can help us plan our day, give us options on what coffee to take, help us remember the birthday of a friend, check the weather, and many more.

Because of Artificial Intelligence, it might come to a point indeed where human beings do not decide anymore, and it is the Assistant who gets the job done. But for artists like me, I see a problem in that in terms of people actually connecting with other people.

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What if one day I am in an unfamiliar neighborhood and do not know where to find my friend’s house? Cool, I have my phone with me, I can easily just type in the address and it automatically guides me to the right path. The Assistant also tells me that my favorite cup of coffee is just a convenient left from where I am. And it has computed for me my time of arrival.

In this scenario, gone are the days of having to stop by, roll down the window, and ask a stranger for directions. Opening that window can be an experience, perhaps allowing me to encounter a kind enough person who knows the friend I am visiting, thus giving me a sense of the community in the neighborhood. Or maybe I would end up with a person so busy that he or she just gives vague or rushed directions. That can be an opportunity for a good laugh.

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Gone are the days when I would need to take a picture of the directions in my mind and will myself to remember the places and things I see before I finally reach my destination. I might miss that beautiful river I pass by, or some old house, or the flock of birds in the air. Being glued to the directions on the phone means Alexa has my complete attention.

As I work, the presence of the phone and its slew of suggestions essentially stop me from noticing the things around me, because it has already thought and imagined for me what I can and must do for the day. The beautiful things I could have experienced and seen while driving have now been reduced to the directions on the phone.

And this is not just in terms of driving. Remember when you wanted to see a movie, just because? Now, asking the Assistant beforehand whether a movie is good or not bars one from the experience of discovery. The Assistant also suggests for you places to shop in, or to avoid the rain, when you could actually wander and ask around, talk to a stranger, perhaps make a new friend.

I imagine a young William Shakespeare trying to create a beautiful sonnet, but because his phone rings with yet another suggestion from the Assistant, his train of thought is now diverted to what wonderful thing he can buy instead. No more sonnet. No more “Romeo and Juliet.”

Or imagine Thomas Edison, right before his supposed eureka moment, receiving a notification from the Assistant about the things he can enjoy and lose himself in today. Perhaps we wouldn’t have light as we know it today.

My suggestion to marketers and consumers: Assistants are there to help us, not to micromanage — much less take over — our lives.

Romar Chuca, 27, is studying for his MBA at the Asian Institute of Management.

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TAGS: Alexa, artificial intelligence, Cortana, Romar Chuca, Siri, virtual assistants, Young Blood
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