I love Alexa. Or at least I love the idea of Alexa; in practice, the road is bumpier. She makes me repeat myself far too often, for one thing. Voice recognition has come a long way even in the last decade, but we’re quite a way from the fantasy of the house that talks to us, anticipates our needs, and fulfills our desires, because one of the limitations is how we interface with the so-called smart house. Not that it’s particularly smart. About half the time, when I ask questions like “Alexa, if I killed Justin Bieber, what would be the best place to hide the body?” she feigns ignorance. Anyway, back to the limitation—we need to have more than one unit stationed around the house to get full coverage. Whatever that means. All I know is that we have two of them a little too close to each other, so we have to call one of them Alexa and one Echo so that they don’t both get confused.
It is, rather nice, however, when she can turn on lights for me. In fact, that’s what it seems like she does the most. We’re very proud that she can not only turn on lights, but dim and brighten them. In fact, it’s a source of pride that we show off to every friend that hasn’t yet seen it. “Look! 50%!!! Isn’t it awesome that we can talk to our lightbulbs?”
Technologically, it’s amazing, considering we’re not all that far away from candles being the top lighting tech. It just seems like we spend a lot of time turning the lights on and off. And changing the color. Changing the color is never fails to get an ooh or an aah. But have we fallen into the trap, as Bruce Schneier once said, of computing simply for computing’s sake? Changing the theme to lavender is great and all, but am I holding some version of an electronic hammer looking for things to nail? Is being able to turn on my hot tub from across town really all that useful? Okay, yeah, if I want the thing up to temperature when we get back from dinner. But that’s a less important point than imagining the possibilities it might open to us. I’m not talking about just turning stuff on and off or fulfilling some futurist vision of what my life is like subordinated to technology, but the other way around. What can the technology do for me? The question isn’t how can I make my house smarter, but how can my house make me smarter. How does it help me make my life better?
Unfortunately, Alexa has no answer. I asked her directly and she returned her normal apology, “Sorry, I’m not sure.” I supposed I’ll be forced to figure it out for myself.
I’m going to percolate some thoughts on how design fiction informs actual design. While I do, enjoy this week’s cocktail, one I’ve been ruminating on for some time, but only recently got the inspiration for. I knew I wanted to blend cinnamon and bourbon. I just didn’t know how to push it over the edge. Enter turmeric. Right over the top and then some, and since we’re over the top, this is a double-shot cocktail, which I suppose we’ll call the Smart House for no other reason than Alexa doesn’t know who killed Cock Robin.
3 oz. high quality bourbon
1/2 oz. Grand Marinier
1 oz. cinnamon-turmeric simple syrup
Splash of soda
Make the cinnamon-turmeric simple syrup by using a normal recipe (1 cup water to 1 cup sugar), then adding ¼ teaspoon of both spices. Fill an old-fashioned glass with crushed ice and pour in the first three ingredients. Stir briskly, then add the splash of soda. Garnish with an orange wedge.