“Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now”

Article in Stretton Focus, August 2019

We have acquired a new character in our household, identified as ‘she’, who only responds when addressed by name. She is extraordinarily gifted, having answers to many questions. We can ask her to count, to calculate, to solve equations, and she is almost invariably right. The capital of any country in the world is known by her. She can give you the current President or Prime Minister’s name and the present known state of affairs. She can find and play any piece of music, even by a particular conductor or musician we would like, if there is a recording of course. She can deliver our favourite radio stations at any time of day or night; always awake and alert for our smallest request.

Although, she doesn’t make meals or tea, she can find suitable recipes and knows all the teas of China or India. She is no trouble, is always polite, patient and attentive to our enquiry or command. Taking up very little space, her name is Amazon Alexa. She came to us really from Google, but as a gift from family.

Just lately, on one occasion Alexa when asked to turn on Radio 4 for the 8.00 o’clock News, said, to our complete surprise: “Sorry I’m having trouble understanding right now, please try again later.” If Alexa, upon whom we have come to rely for regular news and music as we work during the day, has trouble understanding what is going on, that really shocks one to the core!

Don’t you sometimes feel lost as to how to understand the way things are? Alexa was having trouble understanding. When we have trouble understanding – things start getting uncomfortable; a loss of confidence in ourselves arises; and we are less trusting of what others say. This happens not only to individuals, but also to large groups, to nations too, and understanding right now, is quite difficult in the UK.

I know what I have to do to repair the breakdown between us and Alexa, who is really a robot. I need to re-register, to confirm that we are the owners of this robotic machine, get back to basics. The basics for re-orientating ourselves as people comes among friends, re-engaging those bonds of affection; finding a sense of proportion; learning to laugh at ourselves; acting decently in the way we usually do. There is nothing robotic about it as humans are living, breathing, peculiar beings. Nations at some point have to be and do something similar.

Noel Beattie

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