Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Growing Up With Alexa. Are We There Yet?

Alexa speaker

By JT Mudge
Solutions Lead/Project Manager/Storyteller

April 16, 2020 — Santa Cruz, CA

Before we can have a deeper relationship with our voice assistants, they need to have a personality that works well with ours.

Today, voice is not just an emerging technology but a huge part of our lives. Back in 2017, when our family first got an Alexa, my then five year old would mumble to it and be understood about 80% of the time. Now she is eight and it is not much different. In fact, it may be worse. Why? One reason is she is using it for more sophisticated tasks.

Alexa processes more of her requests, but a larger percentage do not work. Instead of just asking for jokes, she now has Alexa in her room and she uses it to control her lights, set alarms, help her with spelling, and play obnoxious music. Repeatedly. Seriously, there is only so many times an adult can hear “Cat Flushing a Toilet” on repeat. Over and over. And over.

Child’s Play

The other thing my daughter likes to do is ask Alexa questions. Lots of questions. She does this all day long and is by far the biggest user of Alexa in our house. And it makes sense too. Reading and writing are skills that take much longer to develop while speech comes more naturally. We continue to develop the subtleties of conversation as we grow.

In a lot of ways Alexa and my daughter are growing up together and learning the finer points of communication. But both of them have a long way to go. Voice assistants need to not only be smart, but they need to communicate with us better. They need to make us feel confident that they hear and understand us. My daughter has long ago surpassed Alexa’s conversational skills but there are three areas of communication where they are both still growing: trust, personalization, and personality.


While communication is at the heart of what voice assistants are about, trust is crucial if we are going to adopt voice as a vital part of our lives. When someone says one thing and does another, that breaks our trust with them, and the meaning of their words change. We cannot take them at their face value.

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