Tag Archives: alexa

The rise and fall of Alexa and the possibility of a new A.I. winter

I recall reading this piece (What Would Alexa Do?) by Tim O’Reilly in 2016 and thinking, “wow, Alexa is really something! ” Six years later we know what Alexa would do: Alexa would kick the bucket (according to this:  Hey Alexa Are You There? ) I confess I was surprised by its upcoming demise as much as I was surprised by its ascendence.

Since reading about the fall of Alexa, I’ve looked at the new AI in a different and harsher light. So while people like Kevin Roose can write about the brilliance and weirdness of ChatGPT in The New York Times, I cannot stop wondering about the fact that as ChatGPT hits one Million users, it’s costs are eye-watering. (Someone mentioned a figure of $3M in cloud costs / day.) if that keeps up, ChatGPT may join Alexa.

So cost is one big problem the current AI has. Another is the ripping off of other people’s data. Yes, the new image generators by companies like OpenAI are cool, but they’re cool because they take art from human creators and use it as input. I guess it’s nice that some of these companies are now letting artists opt out, but it may already be too late for that.

Cost and theft are not the only problems. A third problem is garbage output. For example, this is an image generated by  Dall-E according to The Verge:

It’s garbage. DALL-E knows how to use visual elements of Vermeer without understanding anything about why Vermeer is great. As for ChatGPT, it easily turns into a bullshit generator, according to this good piece by Clive Thompson.

To summarize: bad input (stolen data), bad processing (expensive), bad output (bullshit and garbage). It’s all adds up, and not in a good way for the latest wunderkinds of AI.

But perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps these problems will be resolved. This piece leans in that direction. Perhaps Silicon Valley can make it work.

Or maybe we will have another AI Winter.….If you mix a recession in with the other three problems I mentioned, plus the overall decline in the reputation of Silicon Valley, a second wintry period is a possibility. Speaking just for myself, I would not mind.

The last AI winter swept away so much unnecessary tech (remember LISP machines?) and freed up lots of smart people to go on to work on other technologies, such as networking. The result was tremendous increases in the use of networks, leading to the common acceptance and use of the Internet and the Web. We’d be lucky to have such a repeat.

Hey Alexa, what will be the outcome?

It’s Sunday. Here are nine pieces to mull over this afternoon.

Sure you can make yourself busy on this warm summer weekend. Or you can chill for a bit and read one of these thoughtful pieces. I know which one I am going to do. 🙂

  1. Here’s a piece on the joy of Latin. Really.
  2. 100% this: The Case for Killing the Trolley Problem
  3. Worthwhile: Piketty on equality.
  4. This is a weak piece that tries to link AI to colonialism but fails to make the case:  AI colonialism.
  5. Do you have siblings? Read this:  How Your Siblings Can Make You Happier.
  6. Worth chewing on:The limits of forgiveness.
  7. On one of our oldest technologies: the importance of wood .
  8. Dive into this list of common misconceptions.
  9. Finally, this piece on  Alexa with the voice of dead people will get you thinking.

How to get more from your smart speakers


I am a fan of smart speakers, despite the privacy concerns around them. If you are ok with that and you have one or are planning to get one, read these two links to see how you can get more out of them:

  1. How to control Sonos with Google Assistant
  2. Alexa Skills That Are Actually Fun and Useful | WIRED

I use Google Assistant on my Sonos and they make a great device even better. And while I do have Google Home devices in other parts of the house, I tend to be around the Sonos most, so having it there to do more than just play music is a nice thing indeed.